Microsoft has delivered Microsoft Silverlight 3 and Expression 3, the latest versions of the company’s rich Internet application and Web development and design platform, with the goal of more seamlessly integrating designer/developer workflow, among other benefits.
Microsoft officially launched Silverlight 3 on July 10. However, Expression 3 will be available within the next 30 days, including a free, 60-day trial version available at http://www.microsoft.com/expression/try-it. A release candidate of Expression Blend 3 with its new SketchFlow technology is available now for download.
In blog posts, conference presentations and briefings, Microsoft officials have offered a deeper view into many of the components in the new versions of Silverlight and Expression.
“Silverlight 3 and Expression Studio 3 both provide a great deal of value for both the end user and the developer audiences, and we’re really excited that everyone can now take advantage of the latest advancements,” said Brian Goldfarb, director of developer platforms at Microsoft. “End users and developers alike will appreciate the support for higher-quality video and audio in Silverlight 3. For example, with Smooth Streaming online video will just work like it should, as it adjusts the quality of the video to the user’s bandwidth, rather stuttering or stopping altogether.”
S. “Soma” Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division, said, “Some of Silverlight 3’s new features and improvements include support for running Silverlight applications out of the browser, H.264/AAC/MP4 media playback, GPU support, pixel APIs including pixel shaders, perspective 3D, local messaging between Silverlight applications, an improved business object framework, SEO support and better text quality. Combined with continued innovation in Visual Studio and Expression Blend, Silverlight 3 empowers .NET developers to create cutting-edge Rich Internet Applications and media experiences.”
Further, Somasegar said, “The Out of Browser support in Silverlight 3 enables developers to create Silverlight applications which can run both inside and outside of the browser.”
In a separate blog post, Somasegar said:
“With version 3, Silverlight rounds out a feature list that delivers innovation and benefits to key areas of rich internet applications, including:??Ã Support for true high definition video??Ã Improved line of business support, including data validation and element-to-element databinding??Ã Pixel shaders for deeper rendering control??Ã More than 90 controls and themes, with source code and unit tests for many of them in the Silverlight Toolkit“
And, describing new 3D-enabling technology in Silverlight 3, Somasegar said:
“Perspective 3D support in Silverlight allows developers to use 2D elements to create a 3D experience. Perspective 3D is also a great way to better utilize screen real estate. Let’s look at a simple image viewing application to demonstrate how you can use perspective 3D for both improved visual appearance and better utilization of the screen. Rather than show just one image at a time, we’ll show one primary image in full resolution and a couple more on either side in a perspective view.“
Somasegar also describes new data binding improvements in Silverlight 3. “ElementName binding allows developers to bind one UIElement to another in XAML [Extensible Application Markup Language] instead of having to write event handlers,” he said. “In Silverlight 3, there’s a new property called ElementName on the Binding class. When ElementName is set, the binding engine uses the specified element as the source for this binding.”
Silverlight 3 and Expression 3 Features
In another blog post touting the Silverlight 3 and Expression 3 features, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .NET developer platform at Microsoft, gave his own view of the out-of-browser support of Silverlight 3:
“Users can safely install web applications on their computers, and create persistent shortcuts to them on the desktop, start menu and taskbar (this is supported on both Windows and the Mac).New network detection support within Silverlight enables developers to monitor the network status of a machine and switch between offline and online modes within their applications. Silverlight 3 also includes an automatic update mechanism for applications – so that clients who have installed applications are automatically updated when new application versions are deployed on the originating web server.“
Guthrie added that, “Silverlight 3 includes a ton of new application development features.” Indeed, the Silverlight 3 run-time/SDK (software development kit) combined with the Silverlight Toolkit now includes about 100 user interface controls that enable common scenarios (such as layout, data, charting and child windows) while also providing full styling and template customization support, he said.
Silverlight 3 also includes a new navigation framework that enables deep-linking and forward/back button integration within the browser. “This also enables search engine optimization (SEO) support so that content within a Silverlight application can be indexed by search engines-including Google, Bing and Yahoo,” Guthrie said. “Silverlight 3 also supports the ability to cache assemblies on the client and reuse them across multiple applications (decreasing the download size and improving the startup time of applications).”
On another level, Silverlight 3 also features better text rendering and font support, and richer networking support. “The new .NET RIA Services framework (which now has a go-live license) can be used to easily build multitier data applications that span the client and server,” Guthrie said. “.NET RIA Services enables you to write validation code once and have it applied on both the client and middle-tier layers of your applications.”
Moreover, Microsoft has shipped a free download that enables Silverlight 3 development support for Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Web Developer 2008 Express, which is free. The VS 2008 Tools for Silverlight download provides project support, Intellisense, compilation, and debugging for Silverlight 3 applications, Guthrie said. “The next release of Visual Studio-VS 2010-will add to this and provide a fully interactive WYSIWYG designer for Silverlight (including data binding support within the designer),” he said.
Regarding the Expression 3 professional design and development tool set, Guthrie said, “Expression Blend 3 is a major update and enables dramatically richer tooling support.”
Among the highlights of Expression 3, Guthrie listed:
“??Ç SketchFlow: SketchFlow makes it significantly easier to create prototypes, experiment with dynamic user experiences, and incorporate feedback from customers. If you haven’t seen or tried it yet-you must. It really is a game changing new way to create great user centric applications.??Ç Intellisense: Blend 3 includes C#, VB and XAML Intellisense support. You can now write code and event handlers within Blend without having to switch to VS.??Ç Behaviors: Blend 3 includes behavior support which can encapsulate complex design interactions into reusable components that can be directly applied to a control within the design surface. This enables designers to quickly add functionality and behavior to applications without having to write code.??Ç Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator Import: Blend 3 now has built-in support for importing Photoshop and Illustrator files. As part of the import process you can view and pick individual Photoshop layers to import, customize and regroup layers, and have Photoshop/Illustrator elements retain their original formats within XAML: including layer positions, editable text and font settings, and vector element conversion to XAML.“
And with Expression Blend 3, he said, Microsoft comes closer to realizing its goal of a friction-free designer/developer workflow, as Blend 3 now includes TFS (Team Foundation Server) support, which enables developers to use source control and enlist within projects. “Blend shares the same project and solution format as Visual Studio-allowing both VS and Blend to work simultaneously on the same projects and enabling seamless editing between them,” Guthrie said.
Silverlight 3 also features new GPU acceleration capabilities that enable richer and more immersive graphic experiences, Guthrie said. “Silverlight 3 now supports hardware graphics acceleration, enabling both video and graphics compositing to be offloaded onto a GPU,” he said. “This can dramatically lower CPU usage on a computer, and enables HD video to be played on older low-end machines. You can now deliver and play 1080p HD video experiences over the Web.”
Randy Levine, senior vice president of business development at iStreamPlanet, a provider of digital media strategy, services and software applications, said the company offers its customers live and on-demand video workflow and RIAs through the use of Silverlight.
Levine said iStream recently announced that it will release the next version of iStream Director and iStream Presenter with fully integrated support for Microsoft Silverlight 3. This will provide many new features, including the ability to work with multiple new formats such as H.264 video and AAC audio, as well as live and on-demand Microsoft IIS7 (Internet Information Services 7.0) Smooth Streaming, which dynamically detects and seamlessly switches, in real time, the video quality of a media file delivered to Silverlight media players based on local bandwidth and CPU conditions, he said.
Additionally, iStream is taking advantage of Silverlight 3’s new feature of leveraging GPU hardware acceleration. Another of the Silverlight 3 features iStreamPlanet is leveraging for iStream Player and Presenter is the out-of-browser functionality.
“Now, the iStream Player can be viewed both online and off, in browser or on the desktop,” Levine said.
Dave Marcus, vice president of alliances and business development at K2, a provider of software solutions for building process-driven applications that improve business efficiency, said the K2 process designer is built on Silverlight.
“The Silverlight 3 release improves on the already great experience for both our developers and end users, as the Silverlight-based K2 Process Designer makes use of many new Silverlight 3 features, such as style and resource sharing, transformations, drop shadow effects, wrap panel control, local disk file access, and improved font rendering,” Marcus said. “Our goal is to make available an experience that looks and feels more like a desktop application than a Web-based experience.”
Silverlight 3 “also allows us to split the work of our creative people and our application people in a more efficient way,” Marcus said.