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Silverlight for Linux hits with Microsoft punch

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An open-source version of Silverlight has been released with Microsoft's support, as Flash rival Adobe began crowing about the new media player's death.

Moonlight 1.0 from the Novell-backed Mono team was posted Wednesday, having passed all of Microsoft's regression tests. Moonlight plugs into Firefox and is available for all major Linux distributions including openSUSE, SUSE Linux Enterprise, Fedora, Red Hat, and Ubuntu.

Moonlight builds on Silverlight 1.0, coming with a graphics pipeline, video and audio frameworks, and a JavaScript bridge that use the browser's JavaScript engine to execute.

Also included is the Windows Media Pack, which adds support for Windows Media Video (.wmv), Windows Media Audio (.wma), and MP3.

The goal is to let users on Linux machines play video and enjoy the same breadth of content and quality of experience enjoyed by users running Silverlight on PCs or even Macs.

Project leader Miguel de Icaza said on his blog: "The entire media work involved hard work at every level, but it was worth the effort. We now have one of the best open source media pipelines implemented. And it will only get better with all the new features in Silverlight 2 for adaptive streaming."

The media pack also carries valuable legal clout for Linux users. It features codecs that have already been licensed by Microsoft from major media companies and are worth $1m per user. Moonlight users are indemnified against litigation that might arise from their use in Moonlight.

This is not the only area where Microsoft has assisted Moonlight. The project has been facilitated through the release of the Microsoft Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) under the company's Shared Source initiative and the release of the Managed Extensibility Framework (MEF), Silverlight Control Library, and Control Toolkit under its OSI-approved Permissive License (MS-PL).

Microsoft backed off putting Silverlight on Linux in 2007, opening the door to Moonlight. The company, though, has come around to the view that an open-source edition would help overall adoption of Silverlight and construction of media content for the player.

Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft's .NET developer division, said in a statement: "We have worked with the Moonlight team and Novell to enable interoperability between Windows and Linux platforms and extend the high-quality interactive web and video experience for the benefit of the Linux community."

An open-source version of Silverlight could also help confuse the market for Microsoft's media player rival Adobe Systems with its Flash Player and AIR rich-internet-application runtime. Adobe's Flash Player 10 runs on Linux and the company has open-sourced the specs, but the company stopped short of open-sourcing the player that is pervasive on PCs and online.

Adobe chief financial officer Mark Garrett reportedly dismissed Silvelight Wednesday, telling Wall Street types the player had "really fizzled out in the last six to nine months."

"I'd say... we're innovating ahead of them [Microsoft], and they have not been able to catch up," Garrett said.

It is not clear on what basis Garrett was speaking, with both Microsoft and Adobe engaged in a mind-share war.

Adobe in recent months has been talking up downloads and installations of Flash and AIR, while claiming Microsoft's media-player market share has fallen. Adobe, though, seems to have combined Windows Media Player and Silverlight in its numbers. If that's the case, a decline would not be a surprise, given Windows Media Player is not Microsoft's focus, and we're between releases of Windows while Silverlight is still being evaluated.

Adobe has said Flash Player 10, which is used in AIR, has been installed on more than 55 per cent of computers and it expects downloads will surpass 80 per cent by the second quarter of 2009. Adobe claimed AIR had passed 100 million installs in the year since its release.

Microsoft, for its part, has claimed "hundreds of millions" of Silverlight downloads, a broad claim that cannot be verified or qualified.

What is for certain, though, is that apart from some profile-raising customers such as the NBC Olympics and Netflix, Silverlight adoption lags Flash by a considerable margin. ®

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