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Hands on There has been much hype and more than a little confusion during the last year or so surrounding Microsoft Silverlight.

Is it a Flash killer? Is it a designer tool or a developer tool? Surely it's for streaming videos? Is it a cross platform, browser-based version of Microsoft's Common Language Runtime (CLR)?

Microsoft will go some way towards clearing up the confusion this week during sessions for developers interested in using Silverlight to build rich internet applications (RIAs) attending the company's TechEd and DevConnections shows in Barcelona, Spain, and Las Vegas, USA.

Silverlight doesn't actually fit neatly into any existing category. Instead, it's an exciting and important new technology that could help to change the way we build Web applications.

Silverlight 1.0, released earlier this year offers only a JavaScript programming model. That will change with the next major version, Silverlight 1.1 that is currently in Alpha and will also feature Microsoft's CLR. This will bring the ability to program RIAs and media-based applications using .NET languages like C#, VisualBasic.NET and IronPython, while providing for smoother collaboration between developers and designers.

In this introductory piece I'll show how you build a simple Silverlight application. I'll take you through the basics of a "Hello World" application and give you enough information to start to explore the wide range of possibilities for yourself.

In a nutshell

Silverlight is a browser-based runtime environment for building rich media applications. It's a browser plug-in that effectively extends the browser's Document Object Model (DOM) by adding graphical, multimedia and presentation facilities that can be defined in eXtensible Application Markup Language (XAML). It can be scripted using JavaScript.

Silverlight works with Firefox and Safari on the Mac and Firefox and Internet Explorer on Windows. You don't need an ASP.NET application or a Windows Server to deliver a Silverlight application, meaning that PHP programmers using a Linux and Apache stack can just as easily incorporate Silverlight content.

Top three mobile application threats

Next page: The basics

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