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Microsoft’s Silverlight 3 delivers decent alternative to Adobe

A difficult act to swallow

The best part about the standalone apps aspect is that you don't need to alter any of the application's code. The only thing to do is create a short XML file (AppManifest.xaml) and define a few settings. Suddenly your app can be run both inside and outside of the browser.

But that's only part of the appeal, there's also a revamped and much improved local data store API, called Isolated Storage. The Isolated Storage API is a way to store data for offline web-apps in Silverlight. Again, accessing it is dead simple and thanks to the updates in version three you can now store data for your users regardless of whether they're using the web or desktop version of an app or switching back and forth between them.

Double-click desktop advantage

Unfortunately, Silverlight's desktop app experience is a little behind Adobe when it comes to the end user's experience. To get a Silverlight app running outside the browser, users first need to visit the app in the browser and then right-click and select "Install app onto this computer."

Adobe's paradigm - just download an application and double click the icon - clearly has the edge when it comes to user-friendliness, but Silverlight is getting there.

It is possible to create a Silverlight app that detaches from the browser somewhat like a traditional download, but you'll need to create your own interface and then call the Detach() method on the Application type - or so the documentation informed us. Sadly we were unable to get our app to install on the desktop using this method.

Still, while there are a few bumps, the new out-of-browser capabilities may well end up being Silverlight 3.0's most important new feature. With the massive developer base of .NET I fully expect to see an explosion of desktop-oriented Silverlight apps once version three is out of beta.

In my time working with Silverlight I found development to be fairly easy and in many ways much more flexible than Flash - and that's coming from someone with eight years of ActionScript experience.

The framework is well documented and thanks to the .NET back end, there's no shortage of developers available to build Silverlight applications

Comparing Flash and Silverlight has already ignited many a flame war, but the truth is - as of Silverlight 3.0 - the two are equally capable and the one best suited for your project is really something only you can decide.

I wasn't crazy about the idea of needing a new plug-in, especially one from Microsoft, which doesn't have the best track record with web technologies. If developers can take Silverlight where Microsoft is clearly hoping they can, though, then we better get used to the idea. ®

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