UPDATED - Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie outlined Microsoft's roadmap for future rich media computing based on so-called cloud architectures as he kicked off the company's MIX08 conference in Las Vegas. He also announced that Microsoft was making its Silverlight 2.0 beta available for download.
Ozzie said developers would require new front-end skills to deliver Web-based applications to PCs, cell phones and new device types. At the same time, according to Ozzie, developers will need to create new back-end computing models appropriate for Cloud computing.
Also discussed was Silverlight, which was first unveiled at last year's MIX event. Silverlight is an extension of the .NET framework that can support rich media on multiple browsers and platforms.
''Cloud computing'' is a massively scalable variant on established Grid computing that is still somewhat in search of definition. Cloud computing has been widely associated with Google, Amazon, and Yahoo-style Web services applications hosted on large server clusters.
''Over the next five years, '' said Ozzie, ''the way we write, code and the way we distribute it on a Grid will be fundamentally transformed by this progressive shift to the utility computing model in the cloud.''
Ready for Runtime?
Guthrie said the new Silverlight version supports a subset of the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) UI framework in turn supporting layout management that lets Silverlight UIs dynamically adapt to browser type, size, and CPU capabilities. On the streaming front, a new adaptive streaming controller allows the server to automatically adjust the video streaming rate to the throughput of network and capabilities of the CPU.
On the back end, Silverlight 2.0 has better support for server applications communications using protocols such as REST, SOAP, WS*, and standard HTTP. In addition, cross-domain networking means that client applications don't have to call back to the originating server, enabling better scaling and load distribution. There is also support for sockets. Integrated data support includes data binding for UI controls and data support for LINQ.
Another key innovation is support for local data caching, enabling Silverlight applications to run over sporadically connected networks or for data and setting to be saved between sessions.
The Silverlight 2.0 beta comes with a number of different controls such as a slider, picker tool, and calendar. Over the next couple of months Guthrie said we could expect to see a lot more controls from Microsoft and third parties.
Silverlight 2.0 also comes with a testing framework. Guthrie said that it comes with over 2000 unit tests to begin with.
Silverlight is seen in many camps as an alternative to Adobe Flash. Like Flash, Silverlight hopes to gain ubiquity. At MIX08, Microsoft claimed that Silverlight was garnering as many as 1.5 million downloads per day.
Bryce Johnson, director of User Experience Design, Navantis Inc., is particularly intrigued about being able to create Silverlight applications that are enabled by C#. He said this allows his group to leverage C# skills in this new environment. He also likes the prebuilt controls that facilitate rapid application development.
Chris Swenson, an analyst with NPD said some of the significant highlights of the new release were "Deep Zoom" Technology, Managed Exception Handling, Security Enforcement, XML Reader/Writer (1.0 only had an XML Parser), LINQ support, and Isolated Storage.
What is the key differentiator between Silverlight 1.0 and 2.0? Swenson said, it is the support for framework languages such as Visual Basic, Visual C#, IronRuby and IronPython.
"With Silverlight, developers can work with the scripting language of their choice, the one they are most comfortable with. With Flash, Adobe is forcing developers to use Actionscript," said Swenson. "I think this a big strategic error on Adobe's part, and I tell them every chance I get."
Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst with Forrester noted, "The Silverlight 2.0 control model is the most important thing for Rich Internet Application development. The previous version was not appropriate for an IT developer. With the control model and the .Net CLR, it is more appropriate for a regular developer."Commenting on the distinctions between Silverlight and the Adobe platform, Hammond noted, "The Adobe folks are on a further iteration of their programming platform, and the Microsoft 'guys' are catching up. In the player-based market, which is separate from Ajax, it is basically Microsoft and Adobe. The other option is an Ajax solution, which is browser based, and there are a lot of options there."