Microsoft continues to evolve its Silverlight cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for generating rich Internet applications and Web content, and users are anxiously awaiting the features due in the next release.
The Redmond, Wash., software giant released Silverlight 1.0 in September, along with a 1.1 update. Then on Nov. 29, Microsoft announced that it was renaming Silverlight 1.1 to Silverlight 2.0. And in addition to adding support for .NET, Microsoft is taking the next version of Silverlight further by adding a comprehensive control model, powerful skinning/theming, data binding and over 20 controls in the box, Microsoft said.
Although Microsoft has not set a specific 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.
The prospect of Silverlight being an alternative to Adobe Systems' technology is attractive to several users.
Cynergy, an RIA (Rich Internet Application) development firm based in Washington D.C., has a long history in other RIA technologies, most recently with Adobe's Flex. "But we are incredibly excited by Silverlight," said Dave Wolf, vice president of Cynergy. The company announced the formation of a Silverlight practice last May.
"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," Wolf said. "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 reagent in growth in the RIA space has been having enough of a pool of RIA developers."
Wolf said he believes Adobe has traditionally had a strong design following, but a much more minimal 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."
Wolf said when Cynergy started as an RIA firm, the goal was be a holistic place customers could outsource entire RIA projects to. So they created their own design agency in-house.
"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."
Wolf added that users and developers cannot forget Microsoft's WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation). Many of Cynergy's Silverlight customers are also looking 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," Wolf said.
Neal Page, CEO of Inlet Technologies, a Raleigh, N.C., maker of encoding solutions for video, said: "Silverlight will extend the reach of content to consumers on any platform, much like Flash does today."
Yet, "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 said.
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 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."
Oleg Kokorin, CEO of MS Team LLC, an offshore software development company based in Novosibirsk, Russia, said that using Silverlight for RIAs is a natural fit for his company because they specialize in .NET development and have extensive experience in 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."
Kokorin said MS Team uses Silverlight "to develop web interfaces for animation, video and audio players, casual games, charts and so on. We are looking forward to build our first mobile application using Silverlight."
Chris Johnson, managing partner and founder of Terralever LLC, a Web site design and interactive marketing firm in Tempe, Ariz., said Terralever's been working with Silverlight 2.0 since the alpha release over the summer and they created a game, called "Zero Gravity," using that alpha to demonstrate what the new technology could do.
"Traditionally we've built our rich media and game projects in Flash/Flex; but now that we can leverage C# and it's data binding capabilities and integration with Visual Studio 2008, it 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 back in October of 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.
KickApps Corp. delivers KickApps, a community building platform that supports Silverlight video technology. Alex Blum, CEO of the New York-based company, 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 this solution [Silverlight] as well as Flash, which at this time lacks DRM and HD 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 firm 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.
Meanwhile, Javier Muniz, chief technology officer at Granicus in San Francisco, said: "When Silverlight 2.0 is released, the .NET support will allow us to improve the interactivity of our player and integrate it with more data source, and by doing so improve public access for our customer's constituents." Granicus uses Silverlight to deliver a rich streaming video experience for municipal government applications, Muniz said.
Microsoft on Dec. 10 announced that the National Basketball Association will employ Silverlight on NBA.com to further enhance the online video experience for NBA fans around the world. Major League Baseball already is a user of Silverlight on its MLB.com site
NBA.com will feature a full-screen NBA photo gallery, offer video highlights and deliver additional interactive applications throughout the site using Silverlight, Microsoft officials said. By using Silverlight, the NBA will be able to better access its extensive digital video library and provide fans with access to more online video features. Silverlight will also be utilized on www.WNBA.com and www.NBADevelopmentLeague.com.
Ash Rofail, president of Santeon, an Alexandria, Va., software solutions company, produces applications for NBA.com and uses Silverlight.
"We have many customers who are excited about it [Silverlight] such as; NBA.com, RealEstateVideos.com and several others," Rofail said. "We are using Silverlight to develop front-ends that offer a very rich user experience to interface with our content management system. We have done the same with Flash and will replicate the same level of rich functionality with Silverlight."
Check out eWEEK.com's Application Development Center for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.