Microsoft touts software and service benefits of Silverlight at ReMIX07

Silverlight is more than just streaming video over the Web, Microsoft said at ReMIX07. It also provides a framework for software as a service.

Silverlight is more than just steaming video over the Web, Brad Abrams of Microsoft said at ReMIX07. It also provides a framework for software as a service.

BOSTON -- Balance is the key to the successful Web 2.0 application. Stick your head in the sand, as an ostrich does when danger approaches, and opportunity will certainly pass you by. At the same time, as any gambler will tell you, placing an all-in bet on the latest technological advancement could leave your enterprise penniless and out of luck.

That, Brad Abrams explained at the keynote address at ReMIX07 Boston, is why Microsoft developed Silverlight. With this framework for programming Rich Internet Applications and delivering them to the browser, applications can embrace the mantra of software plus services -- Microsoft's extension of software as a service -- to develop applications that combine a rich user experience and near-universal user access.

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Silverlight aims to act as a bridge between Web-based development with ASP.NET and IIS and client-based development with Office 12 and Windows Presentation Foundation, noted Abrams, the group program manager for the .NET Framework.

"The solutions that will stand the test of time, that will be more than just a one-hit wonder, will span both areas," he said. "The .NET platform delivers an engine for this balance. If you have developers who are trained in ASP.NET, congratulations -- they know how to develop in Silverlight."

Silverlight 1.1, currently in alpha, lets programmers work in native .NET Framework languages. The appeal there, of course, is no longer having to sift through thousands of lines of JavaScript. Moreover, Abrams said, running .NET in the Web browser -- Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari all work with Silverlight -- brings better performance, flexible data support and, naturally, rich user experience.

Meanwhile, the JavaScript-based Silverlight 1.0 was released last month and now appears on several Web sites, from the Home Shopping Network to World Wrestling Entertainment. The latter is a favorite for Abrams -- "I finally have an excuse to watch wrestling. I can say I'm testing Silverlight."

Partners aiming to make Silverlight shine

Several Microsoft partners took the stage at ReMIX07 to show off Silverlight implementations. For example, ComponentOne's Silverlight 1.1 components were on display inside an ecommerce site that Lightmaker.com is developing for a professional basketball team.

MLB.com demonstrated its various Silverlight implementations, including the Mosaic, which lets viewers watch six baseball games simultaneously, and real-time updates of player and team statistics, which are of interest to those with fantasy baseball teams.

The site, run by Major League Baseball, has offered video in the Windows Media Player format since 2001, when it debuted a mix of pitch-by-pitch statistics and start-stop video editing in a feature called Custom Cuts. GameDay video followed the next year, and the first version of Mosaic came in 2005.

"With each step, we've tried to innovate in as many areas as we can," Justin Shaffer, senior vice president of new media for MLB.com, said in a chat with SearchVB.com at ReMIX07 Boston. "We've worked on both the consumer and the distribution side to create the best possible experience for our fans."

MLB.com announced at the conference that its Silverlight-based Mediaplayer 3.0 will be live in time for the 2008 regular season. The player will show site visitors game highlights; subscribers will get live video, real-time statistics and a stat tracking tool.

Shaffer said his development team looked at Silverlight last fall, and, "at face value, everyone was enthused." On top of the user experience improvements, MLB.com's previous use of WMP meant the site could keep the same streaming and distribution model, Shaffer said. (With 100 million page views a day, that was important.)

Admittedly, using Silverlight 1.0 required a lot of JavaScript plumbing -- conversely, GameDay had been written in ActionScript for Flash -- and at that time the market for Silverlight components and toolsets was rather slim when compared to Flash.

However, said Shaffer, who has worked with Flash since the late 1990s, "I think it's easy to forget how far into the development process we are in the Flash space. For Silverlight to enter the space and get to where it is, it's pretty impressive."

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