Why Silverlight? Microsoft Explains…

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about 4 minutes.

Silverlight aims to compete with Adobe Flash and the presentation components of AJAX. It also competes with Sun Microsystems’ JavaFX, which was launched a few days after Silverlight.

Microsoft Silverlight is a proprietary runtime for browser-based Rich Internet Applications, providing a subset of the animation, vector graphics, and video playback capabilities of Windows Presentation Foundation. The runtime is available for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X, with Linux support under development via the third-party Moonlight runtime.

Microsoft describes its advantages as follows:

Compelling Cross-Platform User Experiences

  • Deliver media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web that incorporate video, animation, interactivity, and stunning user interfaces.
  • Seamless, fast installation for users, thanks to a small, on-demand, easy-to-install plug-in that is under 2 megabytes (MB) in size and works with all leading browsers.
  • Consistent experiences between Windows-based and Macintosh computers without any additional installation requirements.
  • Create richer, more compelling Web experiences that take greater advantage of the client for increased performance.
  • Stunning vector-based graphics, media, text, animation, and overlays that enable seamless integration of graphics and effects into any existing Web application.
  • Enhance existing standards/AJAX-based applications with richer graphics and media, and improve their performance and capabilities by using Silverlight.

Flexible Programming Model with Collaboration Tools

  • Based on the Microsoft .NET Framework, Silverlight enables developers and designers to easily use existing skills and tools to deliver media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.
  • Simple integration with existing Web technologies and assets means Silverlight works with any back-end Web environment or technology. No “rip and replace” required.
  • Silverlight integrates with your existing infrastructure and applications, including Apache, PHP, as well as JavaScript and XHTML on the client.
  • Choice of development languages including JavaScript, Ruby, Python, C#, Visual Basic .NET, and more.
  • Role-specific tools for both designers and developers that take advantage of Web standards and the breadth of the Microsoft .NET connected software features.
  • For designers: Microsoft Expression Studio for creating interactive user interfaces and media rich experiences, preparing media for encoding and distribution, and creating World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards-compliant sites using modern XHTML, XML, XSLT, CSS, and ASP.NET.
  • For developers: Microsoft Visual Studio for developing client and server code with full Microsoft IntelliSense, powerful cross-platform debugging, rich language support, and more.
  • Consistent presentation model by using XAML, the declarative presentation language used in Windows Vista–based applications. Controls, visual designs, media, and other elements can be presented with full design fidelity in both Silverlight and Windows-based applications.
  • Extensible control model makes it easy to add rich content and behaviors while enabling efficient code-reuse and sharing.
  • Dramatically improved performance for AJAX-enabled Web sites with the power, performance, and flexibility of Silverlight and .NET-connected software.

High Quality, Low Cost Media

  • Unified media format that scales from high definition (HD) to mobile with Windows Media Video (WMV), the Microsoft implementation of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) VC-1 video standard, as well as support for Windows Media Audio (WMA) and MP3 audio.
  • Add vector-based graphics and overlays to media with support for integration of graphics that scale to any size and broadcast-style overlays for tickers and closed captioning.
  • Flexible ad-insertion solutions with video and animation, including the ability to deliver fluid, broadcast-style video or animated advertisements without loss of visual fidelity or motion quality.
  • Lower-cost media streaming with Emmy Award winning Windows Media technologies that can lower the cost of streaming delivery by up to 46%, and enjoy the flexibility to work with your existing Windows Media streaming deployments. Even further cost reductions are possible with the upcoming Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) Media Pack for Microsoft Windows Server 2008.
  • Broad ecosystem of media tools, servers, and solutions compatible with the Windows Media operating system.
  • Microsoft PlayReady content-access technology that delivers a single solution for digital rights management support on both Windows-based and Macintosh computers for content providers (coming in Silverlight 1.1)
  • Powerful encoding tools for live and on-demand publishing of media experiences with Microsoft Expression Encoder, including hardware-accelerated encoding of WMV and VC-1 at up to 15 times the performance of software alone when paired with a Tarari Encoder Accelerator board.

Connected to Data, Servers, and Services

  • Mash-up and incorporate services and data from the Web by taking advantage of the Silverlight support for LINQ while accessing that data with common protocols like JSON, RSS, POX, and REST.
  • Increase discoverability of rich interactive application (RIA) content that can be indexed and searched due to the text-based XAML format that describes interface and content in a Silverlight-based application.
  • Rapidly scale applications with Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live to host and integrate software services and media content.

Streaming audio and video

  • Silverlight Streaming by Windows Live offers a free streaming and application hosting solution for delivering high-quality, cross-platform, cross-browser, media-enabled rich interactive applications (RIAs). With the ability to author content in Microsoft Expression Encoder and other third-party editing environments, Web designers maintain complete control of the user experience.

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Web 2.0 and Beyond with Silverlight and XAML

Microsoft is finally making real efforts to woo the designer community who have traditionally worshipped the Adobe and Mac product ranges. One new product that addresses this previously overlooked community is Silverlight, which uses the XAML technology and is touted as Microsoft’s Flash killer. For anyone who is keen to listen, Microsoft proposes that Silverlight will achieve similar results to Flash, but it does so in an entirely different way and has different aims. So, the big question is, will Microsoft be able to break the dominance of Adobe’s Flash platform, that is available on the PC, Mac and mobile devices alike? I’m sure the jury is out on that one, but it can be said it is an uphill task.

Future Directions for Rich Internet Applications

Rich Internet Applications are just the beginning. A key trend taking place throughout the Web industry is the urgency to integrate disparate systems and software tools to reduce costs, increase developer productivity, reduce the need for manual processing and intervention in transactions, and decrease time to market. To achieve these objectives, organisations have endorsed the adoption of standards-based systems combined with the migration to Web Services and Service Orientated Architecture. This has led to a requirement to create a consistent and intuitive interface to applications, data and services. The immediate goal of these efforts is to provide simpler, quicker and more efficient access and processing of information.

  • >>Seamless, fast installation for users, thanks to a small, on-demand, easy-to-install plug-in.

    Right now the installation requires you to a) save silverlight.exe to your hard-drive and then b) re-start your browser.

    Many people would be unable to do a). If people do b) they may not find your site again.

    Unless and until Microsoft fixes these problems there is little hope for Silverlight, which is a pity.

  • Seun Ojo

    (Seamless, fast installation for users, thanks to a small, on-demand, easy-to-install plug-in.)

    When i saw that same line, i just glossed over, knowing its one of the usual Microsoft lines…

    I remember having a very terrible experience while downloading it for test: its slow, doesnt give update/status, no notification when its down, makes the system sluggish and unresponsive.

    They forget at times that techies also use/test their programs; coz that sounds like a catch for an MBA IT Manager.

  • Yesterday Java released their 1.0 of JavaFX. Currently exploring it now. I teach Flex/Flash and Silverlight, so its interesting to draw comparisons. I won’t say one is particularly advantageous over in terms of featureset.

    What one needs to do is figure out a conversion tool to convert silverlight to Flex to JavaFX code then one can develop for all platforms. Probably some XSL stylesheet. That would be real cool.