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Microsoft flashes up Silverlight media challenge

So many languages, so little time

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MIX07 Microsoft is adding .NET Framework development for Silverlight, its wannabe challenger to Adobe Flash, which is released today as a beta.

Opening Microsoft's Mix 07 web and designer conference, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect threw down the gauntlet to Adobe and to AJAX. He announced the cross-platform, cross-browser Silverlight would run as a first-class citizen on Microsoft's .NET Framework, which could let developers build and deploy media applications for Silverlight using up to 37 Microsoft and non-Microsoft languages - such as C# in Visual Studio.

"Silverlight is being transformed into a powerful, cross-platform extension to the .NET development and design environment... web applications have been about AJAX and increasing the user experience through the magic of HTML. But AJAX development has its limitations and there are languages other than JavaScript for building sophisticated applications. Silverlight gives you new technology for building rich applications," he said

But this ain't no isolated media player alternative to Flash or AJAX. Silverlight is part of Microsoft's strategy for developers and non-technical content builders to build, post and share multimedia online using Microsoft technologies and services.

Putting Silverlight in the .NET Framework potentially means developers can re-use their existing programming skills and tools, and also target a broad range of devices - mobile devices, servers and Xbox - rather than just the PC.

Silverlight 1.0 will run inside the .NET common language infrastructure (CLI), feature an HTML library with DOM integration, retrieve data using Microsoft's LINQ architecture and run queries in the browser.

Gleaming in the streaming

Microsoft announced a preview of a streaming service to post hosting Silverlight applications with photo and video clips stored by Microsoft. Applications would be downloaded and mashed up with blogs, websites and other applications. Also announced were APIs and HTML controls exposing MSN services - contacts, Virtual Earth and Spaces - for integration with media content, which Ozzie promised would be made available to developers under "new innovative commercial terms under which you can reliably consume services."

Users can post up to 10-minutes-long clips of video with Microsoft providing unlimited storage capacity, DVD quality video, and dishing out a URL to reference users' content. Silverlight streaming is backed by Microsoft's content streaming service meaning "if you Digg or Slashdot it, our service is there to handle the load," according to Microsoft's developer platform Scott Guthrie.

Underlying Microsoft's thinking were potted presentations from online video service Netflix and CBS. Netflix demonstrated a service with user ratings, and the ability for people to chat on films using IM, while CBS showed-off a website with user-submitted news clips complete with tags - a notch above CBS's usual news fare.

Silverlight streaming is another plank in Microsoft's rich content and online media campaign against Adobe tools and services, and sites such as Google's YouTube and Yahoo!'s Flckr. Microsoft is buttressing Silverlight with content creation tools, and today announced the release of Expression Studio - Microsoft's attempt to rival Adobe's Creative Suite.

Content and web developers are a demanding lot, though, and judging by the crashes and delays in the Expression and Silverlight streaming demonstrations, Microsoft's must raise its game significantly to tempt them on board.

Also, Microsoft will need to demonstrate a genuine commitment to cross-platform computing that goes beyond its own unique definition of this phrase. Ozzie and Guthrie demonstrated .NET running on the Mac and supporting non-Microsoft browsers.

However, the .NET Framework remains a Microsoft architecture and those 37 languages play inside the Framework. AJAX and Adobe have achieved critical mass because they do not tie development or deployment to a single vendor's server stack or client, and are proven to work reliably on non-Microsoft alternatives.®

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