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Microsoft’s Silverlight 3 delivers decent alternative to Adobe

A difficult act to swallow

That said, if you're a designer familiar with the Photoshop, Illustrator and Flash workflow, you'll absolutely hate Microsoft Expression Studio - the primary tool for building Silverlight interfaces. Expression Studio feels like it crawled out of 2001 and it's primary component, Expression Design, could compete quite nicely with Illustrator 3.0, but Adobe long since left this sort of primitivism in the dust.

Limited expression

Expression Studio is really geared only towards generating graphics for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) projects and it lacks the kind of pixel editing tools for graphics you'd find in Photoshop, for example. Strangely, older versions have Pixel layers but for some reason the latest release dumps them. Really the only advantage is that Expression Studio can export to XAML, which is useful for Silverlight developers. Also, compared to another Adobe application, Dreamweaver offers pretty good support for web standards, where as Expression Studio doesn't.

What about animation, a mainstay Flash and Silverlight? Flash has some programmatic animation libraries but most Flash projects still rely on some amount of timeline animation. Now contrast that with Silverlight, which uses the WPF animation model - a time-based model.

WPF also lets you define the start and end conditions and can automatically calculate the movement for you. In fact, once you wrap your head around it, WPF "just works," and can save you tremendous amounts of time. Animating the opening of images in our slideshow app, for example, required just ten lines of code cut and pasted straight from the documentation.

The main niche Silverlight is fighting for is the one that Flash has settled into - drawing complex graphs and charts, animation, and of course, delivering audio and video over the web.

Indeed, Silverlight's biggest inroads so far have been in streaming video applications and the new tools in the latest beta only make it more tempting for developers. Silverlight 3 will be able to stream up to 1080p HD video.

Like Flash 10, (which can also stream 1080p HD video) Silverlight now takes advantage of GPU acceleration, but Silverlight has a new trick that might give it an edge over Flash - something Microsoft calls Smooth Streaming.

Smooth Streaming allows Silverlight 3.0 to stream at up to 1080p, but automatically adjusts video quality based on a your internet connection and local processor load. If your bandwidth is lower, say you're stuck on a slow public WiFi, the streaming server will lower the video quality to ensure that you aren't stuck in buffering hell. You can check out the smooth streaming tools available at IIS.net

No streaming for LAMP

Smooth Streaming requires the Internet Information Services 7.0 environment in Windows Server 2008. That means you're never going to be smooth streaming videos from your Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl, Python or PHP stack and will be simply relying on Silverlight 3.0 just to handle the player.

In typical Microsoft fashion, the Smooth Streaming tools are a package affair and you'll need to swallow the package hook, line and sinker before you see any benefits.

That's a big commitment if you're not a big organization broadcasting movies to an Olympic-size audience, but Silverlight 3.0 offers another tantalizing tool to sweeten the deal - the ability to build offline, stand-alone, desktop applications, much like Adobe's AIR platform.

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