Silverlight 2.0: Microsoft readies second assault on Adobe Flash

Microsoft renews assault on Adobe Flash with Silverlight 2.0

Thanks to its broad adoption by video sharing sites like Google’s YouTube, and photo sharing sites like Yahoo’s Flickr, Macromedia’s Flash (bought by Adobe in 2005) rapidly became the technology of choice for streaming content over the internet.

A year ago, Microsoft released the first version of its Flash competitor, Silverlight. It could match rivals’ features, and was fast and user-friendly, yet Silverlight 1.0 had no silver bullet, so to speak, to scare up developers comfy with Adobe’s alternative.


There have some inroads, noteably in the US where support from key partners like AOL, NetFlix and NBC, through the Beijing Olympics coverage it hosted online, have seen Silverlight installed one in three PCs (where it sits alongside Flash, installed on nearly 100% of computers).


Tomorrow Microsoft will release Silverlight 2.0, renewing its assault on Flash.


Deep Zoom

The hero feature of Silverlight 2.0 is a new “Deep Zoom” feature, which can be used to zoom in on one high resolution digital photo, or a virtual “wall” of dozens or even thousands of high-rez photos running to gigabytes of data at gigapixels across. As you zoom in using your mouse’s scroll wheel, or pan around the wall, images are streamed to your PC in real-time.

The Hard Rock Cafe has used Silverlight 2.0 to create a memorabilia wall (above) which you can view here (after downloading the 4MB Silverlight 2.0 – still in its beta 2 version until tomorrow – here). The version currently online has 367 items; Hard Rock has also created a wall using 70,000 images that runs to 2 billion pixels.


“Deep Zoom is designed in a way that will reduce web hosting and bandwidth costs by sending to the browser exactly the right size and resolution image for the current display area,” Microsoft New Zealand web development advisor Nigel Parker tells NBR.


Firefox good, Chrome bad

On a so-so wi-fi connection, I found the Hard Rock Wall easy to pan around and zoom in on (above is a close-up on a note from John Lennon to Phil Spectre).

Silverlight worked fine with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 beta, and fine with Mozilla Firefox 3.03, but would not install on Chrome.

Neither will Silverlight work with an iPhone at this point. For its part, Microsoft says it wants Silverlight to work on anything with an SDK (software development kit) and that it’s ready to talk to all comers about adding support.


More options for advertisers

Mr Parker says Silverlight 2.0 also features expanded advertiser support. “This includes new streaming and progressive download capabilities, superior search engine optimisation techniques, and next-generation in-stream advertising support.”


Goodies for geeks

Many of Silverlight 2.0’s other enhancements, detailed for NBR by Microsoft’s Parker, are on arcane level, aimed at broadening its appeal to a wider pool of software developers.


“There’s expanded .NET Framework language support. Unlike other runtimes, Silverlight 2 supports a variety of programming languages, including Visual Basic, C#, JavaScript, IronPython and IronRuby, making it easier for developers already familiar with one of these languages to repurpose their existing skill sets,” he says, adding “With Silverlight 2.0, developers do not have to pay the "productivity tax" of converting their existing code to JavaScript to run inside the client.”


Parker also detailed Silverlight 2.0’s “extensive” digital rights management “DRM” features for protecting streamed content from being copied, and capabilities for building AJAX (XML) applications and its number of skins and templates.

Below: trailers and teasers online from Silverlight 2.0 launch partner Fox. NBC is also planning to put thousands of hours of TV footage online in Silverlight format, following on from its Sliverlight streamed Bejing 2008 coverage via tvnzondemand has a heavy development commitment to Adobe's rival Flash technology.

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Microsoft today announced the release of version 2.0 its world-beating Silverlight multimedia platform for the Web. As a replacement for Adobe's Flash, it is widely considered utterly superfluous and of no interest to anyone who could be found.

"We have a fabulous selection of content partners for Silverlight," announced Microsoft marketer Scott Guthrie on his blog today. "NBC for the Olympics, which delivered millions of new users to BitTorrent. The Democrat National Convention, which is fine because those Linux users are all Ron Paul weirdos anyway. It comes with rich frameworks, rich controls, rich networking support, a rich base class library, rich media support, oh God kill me now. My resumé's a car crash, Google won't call me back. My life is an exercise in futility. I'm the walking dead, man, the walking dead!"

Silverlight was created by Microsoft to leverage its desktop monopoly on Windows, to work off the tremendous sales and popularity of Vista. Flash is present on a pathetic 96% of all computers connected to the Internet, whereas Silverlight downloads are into the triple figures.

"But it's got DRM!" cried Guthrie. "Netflix loved it! And web developers love us too, after all we did for them with IE 6. Wait, come back! We'll put p*rn on it! Free p*rn!"

Similar Microsoft initiatives include its XPS replacement for Adobe PDF, its HD Photo replacement for JPEG photographs and its earlier Liquid Motion attempt to replace Flash. Also, that CD-ROM format Vista defaults to which no other computers can read.

In a Microsoft internal security sweep, Guthrie's own desktop was found to still be running Windows XP.

(Original blog post: )

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Silverlight 2.0 is an advanced version of Microsoft's earlier launched Silverlight 1.0. Microsoft has planned to take the fight to Adobe's Flash in the times to come. Even though Microsoft may leverage its OS popularity to gain mileage but Adobe's Flash has strong footing and it may take years before any serious bid is made to dethrone Flash from its citadel.

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I've developed RIA with both Silverlight/WCF and Flash/Flex. I must say that Silverlight is very impressive. We have been able to cover much more ground and produce a much better product in a shorter amount of time.

However, there are a few features in the way of bi-directional streaming that can be improved.

We were not early adopters either. We were reluctantly asked to research and produce a prototype. And we (12 of us) were all surprised.

I think Microsoft has a good thing going here. With more features to come, I hope.

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I worked on a project to deliver race highlights for the Louis Vuitton Pacific Series 2009 that is currently being held in Auckland, New Zealand.

The application is entirely Silverlight 2 and it was a pleasure to work with. The site took one person (me) two weeks to build from inception to delivery and is truely dynamic for a changing race format due to the strong control model and data bind for the platform.

Judeg for yourself

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