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Microsoft throws Silverlight 3 beta at Adobe

Plugs gaps, and then some

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Mix 09 Microsoft has opened a new front in its battle with Adobe Systems, releasing beta code for Silverlight 3 that plugs fundamental gaps in its media player and attempts to out flank Flash.

The company opened its annual Mix developer and designer conference by releasing the Silverlight 3 SDK and Visual Studio 2008 Service Pack 1 tools here. Microsoft claimed a 4.4Mb and eight second-download of the player, making it smaller than Silverlight 2.

The beta offers features specifically for developers and that are designed to help managers and consumers in media, line-of-business applications and online advertising.

Of course, it wouldn't be a battle with Adobe without the usual claims of stats and customer references to try and prove Microsoft is the platform you should be buying in to.

Corporate-wide president of the .NET development platform Scott Guthrie told Mix there had been 350 million installs of Silverlight since 2007, when it first appeared. He claimed more than 200 partners support Silverlight while customers now include eBay, BMW, Toyota, CBS's March Madness, and NBC's planned Winter Olympics coverage. NBC used Silverlight to stream its coverage of the Beijing Olympics last Summer

While the data may be subjective and the customer references ten-a-penny, it would be impossible to argue Microsoft is not committed to Silverlight. The Silverlght 3 beta comes just four months after Microsoft's released the current version of Silverlight, version 2.

Also, Microsoft's taken a small but important step to make it easier for developers to find and work with Silverlight in the first place.

Guthrie announced Internet Information Services (IIS) Media Services, a media stack for Microsoft's IIS web server that can be found and downloaded via the latest version of Windows Platform Installer, which was announced at Mix.

The installer is a no-brainer vehicle for people who find they don't have the necessary bits and then would usually need to surf around and try and find them. Windows Platform Installer will examine dependencies in the software you've asked for and pull in the bits needed to run the software - such as IIS or a database - via the browser.

It's one among many steps to make Silverlight 3 take on Adobe's Flash and AIR. To get there, though, Microsoft's had to first plug gaps in Silverlight 2.

Among the bread-and-butter work in Silverlight 3 are a new navigation and page framework that'll let you integrate Silverlight with a browser's forward and back button. There's also ClearType for Windows and Mac, more than 100 controls for charting and layouts, the ability to add pixel shading, and support for hardware acceleration and H.264, MP4, and ACC.

On the advanced front, Silverlight 3 will run outside the browser on Windows and Mac without the need for an additional download by the user to get up and running.

Silverlight 3 can also work offline, detect local networks, and download content to cache. Library caching has been added, so a Silverlight 3 application can detect the libraries it needs and download them when the application is played, so the developer doesn't' need to pack their application with every single library during the build phase on the off chance they'll be needed.

Support for multi-touch applications has been added and Microsoft's also upped Silverlight's search-engine optimization (SEO) capabilities. Features include the ability to let users copy and past Silverlight URLs to forward media content and for Silverlight URLs to show up in search engine queries.

Guthrie's said SCO features would help you build "truly differentiated media experiences and monetize them." ®

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