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Microsoft takes on Adobe with Silverlight 3

Microsoft continues to enhance Silverlight as it looks to compete with Adobe Flex's scope and depth. The Rich Internet Application (RIA) software is expected in Microsoft-centric organizations wishing to leverage .NET platform skills.

Microsoft is moving forward with the latest versions of its Silverlight rich client and Expression suite of tools for design and development. Silverlight 3 is available now, as is a release candidate for Expression 3, with the final version expected in the next month.

Silverlight 3 has seen an explosive growth since it was released 22 months ago, and Microsoft estimates it now runs on one-third of the Internet connected devices. Furthermore, it can leverage the skills set of the extensive Microsoft .Net developer community. Soma Somasegar Senior Vice President for the Developer Division at Microsoft claimed that over 400,000 developers and designers are creating Silverlight applications and that all .Net developers have the basic skills required.

Scott Guthrie, VP of the Developer Division at Microsoft said, "We feel good in terms of where we are at right now. The power of what you can do has exploded in terms of opportunities. We are now at a critical mass point where you can build a ton of really good apps that would have been too expensive before."

Silverlight 3 can run applications out of the browser and improves dynamic streaming via a technique called IIS Smooth Streaming.

Ray Valdes, Research Director at Gartner Inc. said, "Silverlight started out with a narrow focus in media a few years ago, and Microsoft continues to broaden and deepen that to become a full featured credible RIA platform comparable in scope and depth to Adobe Flex."

"I think it is in the early stages of adoption, but I expect growth to continue primarily among Microsoft centric organizations. The key value proposition is that it leverages the .Net platform, skills and ecosystem for organizations that are Microsoft centric," continued Valdes.

Silverlight 3 also enables new rich applications to run natively on the PC and Mac today, with Linux, Windows Mobile and Symbian support expected in the future. Guthrie said this can lower the total cost of ownership for enterprise applications that have to be deployed to hundreds or thousands of client. Silverlight 3 applications also have the ability to cache data locally, so that the application can run offline and then be synced up with the server when connected.

Continental Airlines recently revamped its airline reservations system to run on top of this infrastructure. Aaron Hynes, Managing Director of Ecommerce Technology at Continental Airlines said, "This gives us the ability to focus on the user experience. We have the security integration, the out of browser capabilities, and can have the same application deployed on the Web or as a thick client application, so this transition to Silverlight was not that big of a learning curve."

Guthrie said the Silverlight 3 platform also improves the architecture for delivering video through a network of content distribution edge servers like Akamai, Limelight or Level 3. Previously multiple application servers were required to handle the large load of an application like the Olympics. Using this new architecture, the recent Wimbledon games could be delivered with only a single primary and one backup server.

Not only does this reduce the cost of ownership, but enables a media provider to scale new applications on demand. Guthrie said, "Something like the recent Michael Jackson memorial would have taken 100 servers to handle that load and 2-3 weeks to provision. We could put those up in the span of 24-hours to deliver 3 mb/s high-definition video." Very little mention was made of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) at the release event. Valdes said that Microsoft was clearly putting the WPF message on the back burner, and that Silverlight was clearly moving to the forefront of Microsoft strategy with its incorporation into SharePoint and its consumer properties.

Still, Silverlight builds on WPF. Guthrie said, "If you want the richest possible Windows desktop application, then WPF is the answer. Silverlight is about the Web delivery of applications. Part of the reason we could do so much with Silverlight is because our tools are built in WPF. Our goal is to keep Silverlight and WPF in sync so developers can learn one set of skills for building both kinds of applications."

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