Dave Wolf has been a longtime user of Adobe Systems' technologies, most recently its Flex offering.
But when Wolf, vice president of Cynergy Systems, an RIA (rich Internet application) development company, looks into the future, he sees Microsoft's Silverlight. After working with a version of Microsoft's cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for generating RIAs and Web content, he's excited about what the next version will hold.
"We are incredibly excited by Silverlight," said Wolf, whose company in May announced the formation of a Silverlight practice. "Historically, Flex was the technology being used in the lion's share of our work, but Silverlight opens up some really interesting angles for us. First off, there is no question that the Microsoft developer community is huge, passionate and, for the most part, they get enterprise software development. Really, the limiting [factor] in growth in the RIA space has been having enough of a pool of RIA developers."
Wolf's comments echoed those of other developers who have started to use Silverlight and are awaiting the arrival of Version 2.0. Microsoft released Silverlight 1.0 in September along with a 1.1 update. On Nov. 29, the company said it was renaming Silverlight 1.1 Silverlight 2.0 and adding support for .Net. In addition, officials are taking the next version further by adding a comprehensive control model, powerful skinning/theming, data binding and more than 20 controls in the box.
Although Microsoft has not set a date for when it will release Silverlight 2.0, the company expects to release a beta version with a Go-Live license during the first quarter of 2008—most likely in time for its MIX 08 conference in early March.
For Wolf and others, Silverlight is an attractive alternative to Adobe technology. He said Adobe has traditionally had a strong design following, but a much smaller developer pool.
"Their approach has been to focus on the Java community and move them into the Flex space, which has worked well for them," Wolf said of Adobe. "But with Silverlight, that developer pool is huge and easily tapped. Microsoft themselves has their own challenge in getting designers to move into the fold."
He said that when Cynergy started as an RIA company, the goal was to be a holistic place where customers could outsource entire RIA projects. The company created its own in-house design agency.
"We've had great success in taking those designers and retooling them into the Microsoft tooling and approach," Wolf said. "It really combines to create a powerful sweet spot of a huge available pool of developers mixed in with our existing designers."
He said users and developers can't forget Microsoft's WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation). Many of Cynergy's Silverlight customers also want to provide both an online services-based experience with a true desktop experience, Wolf said.
"Finally, and more pragmatically, we know that Silverlight coming into this space is going to—and is already—pushing Adobe to respond and keep the innovation in the platform going ahead at full steam," he said.
Click here to read more about Silverlight in the Moonlight.
Neal Page, CEO of Inlet Technologies, which makes encoding solutions for video, said that Silverlight will extend the reach of content to any platform, like Flash does today.
However, Page said, "the quality is a significant differentiator, and this will ultimately become a differentiator for paid-for content as well as free content that drives revenue via in-line ads, ancillary ads, brand affinity or providing Web support of traditional content revenue streams."
Page also said that compared to Flash with the On2 codec, Silverlight offers significantly better quality plus the benefit of ubiquitous playback.
"By virtue of its Windows Media platform roots, it has the ability to utilize DRM [digital rights management] for revenue models that require this," he said. "Shortly after the announcement of Silverlight, Adobe announced they would support H.264 in Flash. This will normalize the quality differences at some point, but the DRM capabilities and other development tools still fall in Silverlight's favor. The downside is that it is very new and not yet as widely deployed as Flash."
Page 2: Developers Await Silverlight
Oleg Kokorin, CEO of MS Team, an offshore software development company in Novosibirsk, Russia, said using Silverlight for RIAs is a natural fit for his company because it specializes in .Net development and has extensive experience building Web 2.0 applications and server-based solutions.
"I hope with the Silverlight 2.0 release it would be possible to create equal or even richer Web interfaces," Kokorin said. "Adobe's Flash was the only appropriate technology for this purpose. Flash allows creating very attractive and convenient user interfaces, but we use Microsoft ASP .Net and Microsoft SQL technologies for developing other layers. This complicates and raises the cost of the development."
Chris Johnson, managing partner and founder of Terralever, a Web site design and interactive marketing company in Tempe, Ariz., said Terralever's been working with Silverlight 2.0 since the alpha release over the summer, and it created a game, called "Zero Gravity," using that alpha to demonstrate what the new technology could do.
"Where the 1.0 release and its reliance on Java-Script made the creation of complex, rich Internet apps difficult, the ability to use C# in 2.0 is a huge advance for an agency like ours," Johnson said.
"Traditionally, we've built our rich media and game projects in Flash/Flex, but now that we can leverage C# and its data binding capabilities and integration with Visual Studio 2008, [Silverlight] is becoming a viable option for these projects," Johnson said. "We've been chatting with a few clients about how to start integrating Silverlight into their online efforts. In fact, we're currently in discussion with a very large casual gaming site about creating a Silverlight 2.0 game for them."
Noah Gedrich, director of technology at Blitz, a Los Angeles interactive advertising agency, said his company has been an early user of Silverlight since it was known as WPF/e in October 2006.
"By providing a real competitor to the Flash Player and the Adobe Web tools, Silverlight has the potential to force both Adobe and Microsoft to be more responsive to the needs of the end users and the designer and developer communities," Gedrich said.
The company KickApps delivers a community- building platform, also known as KickApps, that supports Silverlight video technology. Alex Blum, CEO of the New York-based business, said: "As we get more aggressive with leading with our custom video player capabilities and media management followed by social networking, we felt it important to have
[Silverlight] as well as Flash, which at this time lacks DRM and HD [high-definition] support." However, Blum added that KickApps expects Flash "to match these capabilities soon, but we also expect that Microsoft will be successful with driving demand with many of our big media partners in particular. And we want to be ready for that."
Jon Rauschenberger, chief technology officer at Clarity Consulting, of Chicago, said Silverlight is enabling his company to deliver all manner of RIA and other applications to customers.
"Specifically, we do a lot of work in the retail industry and are seeing a lot of interest in building cross- channel solutions using WPF/.Net that can be deployed in stores on XP Embedded and now brought to the Web using Silverlight," Rauschenberger said.
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