In addition, the company said it would release a beta version of Silverlight at its upcoming MIX07 conference.
As Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's development unit, put it in a blog entry called Silverlight: The next generation web experiences, "Silverlight will enable content providers to deliver media experiences and rich interactive applications that incorporate media, graphics, animation, and much, much more."
In addition, Silverlight applications will operate on the Mac platform as well as Windows, and in the Safari and Firefox browsers as well as Internet Explorer. Moreover, applications can run on mobile devices or high-definition television screens.
Silverlight is part of the .NET Framework 3.0, which means Web developers can use it inside Visual Studio 2005 and Web designers can work with it inside Microsoft Expression Studio. The product is currently available as a Community Technical Preview and can be downloaded here.
Files created using Silverlight keep their markup in a code-behind file comprised of XAML, the Extensible Application Markup Language.
"You can embed XAML directly within an HTML file if you want a simple, monolithic solution, or you can keep the two separate to enforce a delineation between different web development roles," Vista technical evangelist Tim Sneath writes in a blog entry called Introducing Microsoft Silverlight.
The possibilities presented by XAML, its client- and browser-agnostic nature, and its "blindingly fast" speed, in Sneath's view, all offer convincing reasons to use Silverlight.
In a statement, Microsoft noted that several companies are "early supporters" of Silverlight. This list includes Akamai Technologies, Major League Baseball and Netflix.
The company has also unveiled an official Microsoft Silverlight Web site.