Serious business behind Microsoft's Silverlight-3 tease
Game faces on this month
Microsoft's been playing the tease on Silverlight 3. The company's been slowly upping the ante on expectations, promising "major enhancements ", while outsiders who traveled to Redmond and have met the Silverlight team have returned with tales of wonders but few details, citing pain of confidentiality agreements.
This month, though, should bring greater understanding for the rest of us. From what we heard at last week's VSLive, you can expect a Silverlight 3 code dump - conceivably a community technology preview - by Microsoft at this month's Mix 09 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A final bug-free product will follow.
What can you expect in the code dump?
Microsoft itself refused to provide details. A spokesperson told The Reg that: "Microsoft [is] working on a wide range of new features for Silverlight 3 and will be sharing more details soon."
Putting the pieces together, what's emerging is a picture of Silverlight that'll add some desperately needed polish to the first two editions, while also delivering a medium that goes beyond the media player we've seen and will help partners build serious, line-of-business applications.
Microsoft's certainly has its work cut out.
In a relatively short time, Microsoft established a strong beachhead in the world of media players with Silverlight, something that's wowed .NET developers with a platform to build and code multimedia while using Visual Studio and Microsoft programming languages but without needing to either learn Flash or hand off to external Flash experts.
But once the initial flash of video on .NET has worn off and organizations have started digging deeper, it's become clear where Siverlight has been lacking. Developers have asked for some really basic features in Silverlight 3. These include: support for GIFF's and TIFFs, the ability to print from Silverlight, clearer text display, bit-map drawing and rendering, more effects - including buttons and shadows - and a simple back button.
Microsoft has been taking feedback, and given the facts that the competition is Adobe Systems and that Silverlight trails Adobe's Flash in all the above areas by some way, there's every reason to believe it has acted on this feedback and baked it into Silverlight 3.
Beyond Hard Rock
If this is the case, then that'll mean Silverlight 3 is not just suited to the kinds of flashy multimedia displays that proved its abilities - such as the Olympics or the Hard Rock Café memorabilia site  built using Silverlight 2. These changes will make it suited to more down-to-earth applications, in their charting, graphing and presentation of complex data.
We should therefore expect  Silverlight 3 to feature data support for ASP.NET applications, events and forms controls, forms authentication so that users who sign into view data that's presented through a Silverlight front end can only see the information that corporate security policies say they are allowed to see.
Also, based on comments from Microsoft's VSLive conference last week, you can expect more interfaces from Microsoft and partners to link the WPF subset that's used in Silverlight to Model View Controllers (MVCs) for architectural patterns. Currently, you've got to figure out your own interfaces to link Silverlight to MVC.
Data binding is important for partners like Infragistics, who can tie the presentation layer of a business application into workflows and processes via WPF without needing to get their hands too dirty on deep API programming. The company yesterday launched NetAdvantage for Silverlight Data Visualization 2009 Volume 1, a collection of data visualization UI controls for Silverlight 2.
Infragistics lead technical evangelist Tony Lombardo told The Reg improved data binding would make it easier to have multimedia-rich line-of-business applications. "As this [data binding] gets even more mature it will make the components we can provide as a component developer that much richer," he said.
Microsoft's goal is to ensure Silverlight and WPF on the desktop have the "same level of maturity." One partner said at VSLive last week: "Eventually, I think we will get to some kind of parity with WPF".
Another thing to look out for in Silverlight 3 will be deep linking - the ability to put hyperlinks in Silvelright-3 applications. This will help when it comes to optimizing search engine queries, potentially making easier to return just Silverlight 3 content in a search instead of a full web page and to also embed just the media content in another page.
These ideas are like catnip to advertising and marketing types. It raises the prospect of being able to narrow search engine searches to just media - when that's all you want - and of embedding your video in another person's site enabling video to propagate virally. As a result, this kind of benefit will also make it significantly easier for developers and technology types to advocate using Silverlight instead of Flash in content development.
One Microsoft partner who wished to remain anonymous promised we'd see improvement in deep linking "soon".
Also on the agenda of Silverlight 3, as promised by Guthrie last year, are H.264 video, 3D, and GPU hardware acceleration and rich-data binding in Visual Studio and Visual Web Developer Express.
People sound impressed by what they've seen in Silverlight 3. The chances are that's because it could finally mean parity with Flash on basic features, removing a barrier to switching from Flash to Silverlight and doubling down on .NET, while then going several steps further on workflow, data, and search. These latter steps could take content built in Silverlight into areas important to the vast majority of Microsoft's core constituents: partners that serve business customers.
If that is the case, then Silverlight 3 could finally give Microsoft a shot at Flash, hence the excitement emanating from Redmond, and the enthusiasm from those who've seen behind the veil. ®