MIX09: Silverlight 3 looks great in (and out of) the browser

Microsoft Silverlight logoSilverlight 3 arrives in beta form with a huge host of improvements. But what really blows our minds is just how quickly Microsoft has been able to cram this many features into its Flash competitor.

As expected, Silverlight 3 was announced today at MIX09, this year's iteration of Microsoft's annual conference for web developers, designers, and enthusiasts. While the keynote that just finished was full of little announcements that were handed out faster than the audience could swallow them, the one that stood out the most was the third iteration of Microsoft's Flash alternative, Silverlight. Links for the first and last beta of Silverlight 3, and the many development tools surrounding it, went live earlier today.

During the keynote, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .NET Developer Platform at Microsoft, announced a list of improvements that left me wondering if "the third time's the charm." The new beta is 40KB smaller than Silverlight 2, which is not exactly mind-blowing—until you look at what's inside.

Guthrie threw some numbers at the audience: more than 200 Microsoft products and websites use Silverlight, 10,000 applications globally use it, and there are more than 350 million installs of the runtime to date.

"In the short time since we launched Silverlight and Expression Blend, Microsoft has rapidly introduced new features and functionality that enable customers to deliver outstanding Web sites," Guthrie said, and if you look at the above picture, you can see he wasn't kidding. Silverlight development is one of the fastest-developing projects at Microsoft, with Silverlight 1 being out for only a year before Silverlight 2 was released. Six months afterwards, we're on to the Silverlight 3 beta, and Guthrie says there are thousands of new APIs and hundreds of new features for this version. The really important ones can be broken down into four points:

  • Media: GPU hardware acceleration, new codec support (H.264, AAC, MPEG-4), raw bitstream Audio/Video API, and improved logging for media analytics
  • Graphics: GPU Acceleration and hardware compositing, perspective 3D, bitmap and pixel API, pixel shader effects, and Deep Zoom improvements
  • Application development: Deep linking, navigation and SEO, improved text quality, multi-touch support, 60+ controls available, and library caching support
  • Data: Data-binding improvements, validation error templates, server data push improvements, binary XML networking support, and multi-tier REST data support

From the above feature list (full changelog here), it's not really surprising that Microsoft was boasting about all the companies that are developing rich Internet applications (RIAs) using Silverlight. NBC, for example, is going to be using Silverlight again for their coverage of the next Olympics, which are being hosted in Vancouver next year. This time, though, they'll be streaming at 720p. Silverlight 1 was very much focused on streaming video, whereas version 2 was aimed at RIAs, but version 3 seems to expand on both areas.

In terms of streaming, Microsoft says Silverlight 3 brings "high-definition video in full-screen mode, with stutter-free live and on-demand video" to the table, and it was quite obvious from the demonstrations that it wasn't just talk. Guthrie showed off smooth streaming, which allowed him to start playing an HD video anywhere he chose, instantaneously.

In addition to all these improvements, version 3 now allows developers to create Web applications that can exist outside the browser, like Adobe AIR. How does it work? Open a browser page. Launch the Silverlight application. Close the browser. The Silverlight program lives on.

It's still limited by the security features provided by the browser, and it's still a Silverlight application in the sense that it works exactly the same way on multiple platforms, but it looks the same regardless of where you launch it. Companies can therefore update their applications anytime they want (Internet-connectivity detection and auto-update can be built-in), using one codebase across platforms.

For more information on what this release includes, I strongly recommend the following Channel 9 video embedded below (yes, Silverlight is required) because it is an excellent rundown of all the facts you need to know.

Source: ars technica

Tags: Microsoft

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