Silverlight 2.0 Overview: Feature Report, Pros and Cons
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October 20, 2008

Silverlight 2.0 Overview: Feature Report, Pros and Cons

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Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to the currently dominant Adobe Flash.

Silverlight 1.0 has been available for about a year now. It has had some successes, most notably when it was the exclusive way to view video and other multimedia from the Beijing Olympics.

But, the truth is that this success was "purchased" by a Microsoft partnership. (NBC televised the Olympics, NBC and Microsoft have long been tight partners – you’ve heard of MSNBC right?)

Other partners like NetFlix have helped Silverlight continue to make limited inroads in the developer community as well.

However, out in the wild, where companies and sites receive no money or partner benefits, the standard platform for streaming media is almost 100% Adobe Flash. In fact, Microsoft’s own Small Business Server Summit broadcasts its live sessions in, you guessed it — Adobe Flash.

All that may have just changed…


Silverlight 2.0 Released

Rich Internet Applications or RIA — memorize this term, it is the next buzzword to migrate into the mainstream media and mass user consciousness.

Once upon a time, Flash was good for streaming audio and video. Today, entire website interfaces are built in Flash. Google’s earlier announcement this year that, together with Adobe, they had come up with a way to index Flash content, means that only more sites will start to embrace Flash, or maybe Silverlight.

Today, Microsoft released Silverlight 2.0. It is a oft-stated belief in the technology community that Silverlight 1.0 was a rush job, a stop-gap product rushed out the door to prevent the vacuum developing behind Flash from getting any bigger. Silverlight 2.0 is supposedly what Microsoft wanted to ship from the beginning.


Microsoft has some very cool looking demos up on their Silverlight site at silverlight.net that are worth taking a look at.


Silverlight 2.0 Features, Hopes & Dreams

While test versions of Silverlight 2.0 have been floating around for a while, a true look takes the final release code. That being said, there are some interesting new features to look forward to using in 2.0.

Built in .NET platform

Ok, not the whole thing, what did you expect? But, a small stripped down version that runs inside the browser is built into Silverlight 2.0.

That means that developers can use their home language and development tool to build Silverlight applications. This is huge, because one of the big things holding back Silverlight is that no one wants to learn another new programming environment when so many people already know Flash.

Now, someone who builds programs in C# with Visual Studio is already off and running. (Visual Basic, JavaScript and the IronPython/Ruby languages are also said to work.)

Built-In Backend Support

Silverlight 2.0 supports REST, POX, RSS, and SOAP all right out of the box. This allows for better and easier data access by applications.

Direct Interpretation of XAML

Flash uses SWF for its player so there is always a conversion that occurs there. Silverlight 2.0 just uses the XAML files which are actually built into the XAP files.

Indexable

That big Google indexes Flash announcement is a little less ominous when you figure that XAML files with text could easily be indexed by search engines. (Guess whose search engine will do it first? Paging Microsoft Live Search.)

Faster

In the world of developers one ring rules them all, and that is speed. Silverlight 2.0 is substantially faster than its previous version.

Deep Zoom

Every product needs a hook. Deep Zoom is Silverlight’s hook.

Most of the improvements and features are the kinds of things that you can’t really "see." Deep Zoom, however, is very visual.

With Deep Zoom, you can take an image and zoom in and out by using the mouse wheel. The neat part is that it occurs without getting grainy.

Frankly, it is a great idea in search of a great use (although the Deep Earth thing sounds interesting), but for the now, it is a great way to show off a little.


Silverlight 2.0 Cons

No product is perfect, and Silverlight 2.0 has a few drawbacks of its own.

For starters, the point of the product is cross-platform support. Today, Silverlight 2.0 works on Windows and Macs, but does not rely as much on Moonlight to deliver Linux support which isn’t ready yet.

Also, Silverlight doesn’t support mobile devices yet either, including Windows Mobile devices.

Most importantly there still seems to be no real way to use Photoshop for design. It is true that Microsoft offers its own design programs (the Expression applications) but the fact remains that in an environment where there is a designer and a programmer, the designer uses Photoshop, not Express Design, which just creates headaches for the developer.


Conclusion

Silverlight 2.0 still has a long way to go not just to out-race Adobe Flash, but to get within shouting distance.

Still, the new Silverlight marks a major improvement and gives companies and developers new reasons to give it a try.

Assuming a 2.5 or 3.0 version cranks out in a quick development cycle, Silverlight just might be in the race with the next release.


About the Author

(MCSE, CNA) is a professional freelance writer and small business owner with the freelance writing business ArcticLlama, LLC. Brian’s experience includes network and systems administration, financial planning and advising, and he even has a degree in Biochemistry. Brian specializes in several areas of highly technical writing for ArcticLlama including technology, science and medical. He is also a freelance financial writer specialist. He lives in Colorado with his wife and daughter. Brian contributes articles on Windows Server 2008 and other related topics.

Author's Website: http://www.arcticllama.com/


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