With Version 3 of Silverlight, Microsoft has brought its development platform closer in line with that of Adobe Flash. However, Silverlight still lags behind Flash in terms of the capability one would expect from an RIA platform. Version 3 of the tool used for building Silverlight apps, Expression Blend, looked robust in eWEEK Labs' tests of the release candidate.
With the release of Silverlight 3, Microsoft continues its race to
catch up with the product's main competition-namely, Adobe's Flash. To
a large degree, Microsoft has done a good job, adding many features
that Silverlight lacked compared with Flash.
But Silverlight still lags behind Adobe's Flash-and behind Adobe's
related products, AIR and Flex--when it comes to providing
the capabilities that one expects from an RIA (rich Internet
Further, Silverlight is still well behind Flash in terms of market
penetration, which means developers looking to reach a wide audience
will still choose Flash. (This is well-illustrated by the fact that
Microsoft itself uses Flash for the much-talked-about video preview
feature inside the company's new Bing search service.)
Still, Silverlight 3 is a promising entry in the RIA arena, and it
is significantly improved over Version 2, especially in the areas of
high-definition code support and in its ability to run outside the
browser. While Silverlight may not overtake Adobe's offerings (or, for
that matter, Java, AJAX or HTML 5), it could prove to be a powerful new
tool in the arsenal of Microsoft platform developers.
The Mono-based Moonlight project provides Silverlight functionality
for Linux users, although Moonlight's capabilities are not as rich as
those of Silverlight 3.
To the Test
I loaded Silverlight onto Windows and Mac OS systems, and tested it
using sample applications, publicly available Silverlight content and
applications, and my own content.
From a user perspective, one of the biggest new features in
Silverlight 3 is the ability to run applications out of the browser and
offline. This capability which must be enabled by the developer, allows
users to run Silverlight applications as stand-alone desktop
applications, complete with the ability to run on startup and handle
basic local data storage.
In tests, this capability worked well, but it isn't on the same
level of a desktop platform such as Adobe AIR. For the most part, it is
more similar to Mozilla Prism or Google Gears, though with richer media
Defining an application for use outside the browser was a simple
task. I simply chose Enable Applications Outside of Browser from the
Project menu. Users of the application would then have the option to
run it out of browser and to create Desktop and Start menu icons.
Another nice Silverlight 3 feature is Smooth Streaming, which is
actually provided by delivering content using Internet Information
Services on Windows Server 2008. This makes it possible to deliver
content and have the content adjust its quality and bandwidth usage on
the fly depending on the user's connection quality.
On the video side, Silverlight 3 joins Flash in its support of H.264
video and AAC audio, which provide high-quality Internet-based video
and audio, respectively. Silverlight 3 also includes several
interactive and 3D enhancements, providing greater content
manipulation and control for users.