SAN FRANCISCO -- In recent months Silverlight has emerged as a possible challenger both to Flash and to Ajax in the realm of Rich Internet Application development.
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At The Ajax Experience in San Francisco last week, Matt Gibbs, a development manager at Microsoft, presented an overview of Silverlight, the company's framework for Rich Internet Application development, and offered a bit of a comparison between Silverlight and Ajax development.
Silverlight's selling point is that it is strives to be both platform- and browser-agnostic -- and that is something with which Ajax struggles.
"We have a renewed focus that is not all about Internet Explorer," Gibbs said. "To be able to successfully compete, we need to target Firefox [and] the Mac, and we have made good inroads into Opera."
It was also important for Microsoft to focus on creating a system that could operate in a sandbox in order to provide a high level of security, Gibbs said.
"We are going to find a set of standard capabilities and make them available without prompting the user," he continued, adding that there will be no "backdoor" that users can opt into to make an application do more than it is intended to do.
However, the Silverlight sandbox does, like an Ajax-enabled Web application, allow for some isolated storage on the client. This allows the applications to store some data on the client without going back to the server.
Silverlight and Ajax: Four differences
Throughout his talk Gibbs pointed out four distinct differences between Silverlight and Ajax development. (Additional insight on the Silverlight-Ajax relationship can be found in two blog posts by Microsoft program manager Dare Obasanjo -- What comes after Ajax? and Silverlight: AJAX is now an endangered species.)
Canvas allows for a number of rich graphics effects like rotate, scale, skew, translate and matrix transforms. "You can still code it by hand, but I would not," Gibbs said.
Microsoft is also working on a model where additional features, like Python support, can be added as a 300 KB download instead of a standard feature that is forced upon all Silverlight apps, Gibbs added.
Silverlight and Ajax: Three similarities
That said, there are a few ways in which Silverlight and Ajax behave similarly.
Finally, since only five programmers, out of an audience of about 50, indicated that they were using Visual Studio, Gibbs that the Visual Studio Expression Edition is free, both for VS 2005 and VS 2008.