In a developer-focused event known as a Silverlight Firestarter, Microsoft laid out the roadmap for Silverlight 5, the next version of the company's rich Internet application technology.
At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in October, the company indicated that it might be changing the focus of Silverlight. However, in a move to help set its record straight, Microsoft gave developers a peak at what they can expect from Silverlight 5 at the Silverlight Firestarter on Dec. 2. Microsoft corporate vice president Scott Guthrie hosted the event on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus.
Silverlight is a platform for creating and delivering rich Internet applications and media experiences on the Web. Silverlight 5 builds on the foundation of Silverlight 4 for building business applications, premium media applications and applications that reach beyond the browser, Microsoft said. Silverlight 5 introduces more than 40 new features, including support for running Silverlight applications with desktop features in the browser, enhanced video quality and performance improvements, and features that improve developer productivity. The Silverlight 5 beta will be available sometime in the first half of 2011, and will release to the web later in the year, Microsoft said. More information will be available at http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight.
Silverlight 5 offers improved media support and rich UI capabilities, such as Hardware Decode and presentation of H.264 improve performance for lower-power devices to render high-definition video using GPU support. And the TrickPlay feature allows video to be played at different speeds and supports fast-forward and rewind. At up to twice the speed, audio pitch correction allows users to watch videos while preserving a normal audio pitch.
Other media and UI features include improved power awareness prevents the screen saver from being shown while watching video and allows the computer to sleep when video is not active, remote-control support that allows users to control media playback, and digital rights management advancements that enable seamless switching between DRM media sources.
For developers, tools improvements include Microsoft Visual Studio profiling support including CPU, memory, thread contention; and Visual Studio Team Test support.
Meanwhile, for business application development, Silverlight 5 supports the creation of next-generation business apps and provides a more fluid user interface that enables smoother animation within the UI. Inter-Layout Transitions enable developers to specify animations to apply when elements are added, removed or re-ordered within a layout. This provides smoother user experiences when, for example, items are inserted into a list.
The next version of Silverlight also features text improvements that make it possible to build rich magazine-style text layouts, including:
- Multicolumn text and linked text container allow text to flow around other elements.
- Tracking/leading set precisely how far apart each character is for full creative control.
- Text clarity is improved with Pixel Snapping.
- Text layout performance is significantly improved.
- OpenType support has been enhanced.
Performance of the software also has been tweaked. Silverlight 5 performance improvements include reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking; Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) parser improvements that speed up startup and runtime performance; and support for 64-bit operating systems.
Graphics improvements include a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) accelerated 3-D application programming interface (API) that provides rich graphics on the Web for building advanced data visualizations and rich user experience (UI). Other graphics improvements are an immediate mode graphics API that allows direct rendering to the GPU, and hardware acceleration is enabled in windowless mode with Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft said
Moreover, support for Postscript vector printing enables users to create reports and documents, including the ability to create a virtual print view different from what is shown on the screen. And applications can now work the way users expect with added support for double-click and Combobox type ahead.
And Silverlight 5 networking and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) enhancements include reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking; and WS-Trust support for message security. This means messages are encrypted at the Windows Communication Foundation level using Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) authentication tokens.
Indeed, Silverlight offers a new class of trusted applications that brings desktop capabilities to the browser for the first time, Microsoft said. These features, when enabled via a group policy registry key and an application certificate, mean users will not need to leave the browser to perform complex tasks. Users can:
- Host HTML content as a Web browser control within the Silverlight application. HTML pages, such as help content or e-mail, can be integrated within the application.
- Read and write files to the user's My Documents folder, making it easier to find media files or create local copies of reports.
- Launch Microsoft Office and other desktop programs. Users can open Microsoft Outlook and create an e-mail message, or send a report to Word utilizing the power of Office.
- Access devices and other system capabilities by calling into application COM components. Users can access a USB security card reader or a bar-code scanner.
- Enjoy full keyboard support in full screen, which enables richer kiosk and media viewing applications.
- Call existing unmanaged code directly from within Silverlight with PInvoke.
In addition, Silverlight 5's Model View ViewModel (MVVM) and Databinding enhancements allow more work to be done more easily via XAML, Microsoft officials said.
And, among other new features not listed here, support for out-of-browser trusted applications has been further enhanced. For instance, existing unmanaged code can be called directly from within Silverlight with PInvoke, and Child Window support allows multiple windows to be launched from the application.
Meanwhile, at Firestarter, Telerik, a maker of tools for building .NET- and Microsoft technology-based applications, will announce the official release of Telerik f!acedeck-a Microsoft Silverlight-based client application for Facebook. The product, formerly known as "Microsoft Silverlight Client for Facebook Beta" and first released in early 2010, has been further developed by Telerik and will be made available as the first official version under a new brand name.
Telerik will take over the application from Microsoft and continue to further its evolution and support as a free tool for the public. Powered by Silverlight 4, Silverbook delivers superior experience to Facebook users and offers unique features, such as drag-and-drop from the local file system and access to the video camera. The highly requested new features in the official version include instant loading and smooth scrolling of the Facebook wall, notifications and chat.