Adobe Flash 10 wasn’t the only major web runtime to have a milestone release this week. Microsoft’s Flash competitor, Silverlight, officially hit version 2.0 yesterday.
Silverlight 2 comes after a very good summer for the Microsoft cross-browser rich media and RIA plugin, one which saw adoption rise rapidly following some successful public deployments. According to Microsoft, Silverlight market penetration in some countries is already approaching 50%, in large part due to their rapidly growing developer ecosystem. The NBCOlympics.com deployment of Silverlight for this summer’s online Olympic video coverage — perhaps the largest to date — saw 1.3 billion page views, 70 million video streams and 600 million minutes of video watched, and increased Silverlight penetration in the United States by 30%, says Microsoft.
Silverlight also handled the video for this year’s Democratic National Convention, which due to the high profile nature of the presidential race in the United States, was one of the most watched in history. And, Microsoft says, CBS College Sports Network is streaming more than 20,000 hours of live content each year using Silverlight.
Microsoft has signed an impressive list of corporate development partners for their plugin, with forthcoming applications from Blockbuster, Hard Rock Cafe, CBS, AOL, Yahoo! Japan, and Toyota.
What’s New in Silverlight 2?
Silverlight, which is essentially Microsoft’s answer to Flash: a cross-platform browser plugin that enables the delivery of rich media content and the development of .NET-based rich Internet applications, adds a number of compelling new features for version 2.
- Text Rendering – Text rendering has been improved in Silverlight 2. According to Tim Heuer, program manager for Silverlight at Microsoft, text is an area that they will continue to focus on and improve.
- Silverlight Control Pack – Silverlight 2 adds a bunch of built-in controls that help developers rapidly build new applications. Via Scott Guthrie: “The Silverlight 2 release includes core form controls (TextBox, CheckBox, RadioButton, ComboBox, etc), built-in layout management panels (StackPanel, Grid, Panel, etc), common functionality controls (Slider, ScrollViewer, Calendar, DatePicker, etc), and data manipulation controls (DataGrid, ListBox, etc).” The plan is to continue releasing new controls over the next few months and eventually have more than 100 in the pack.
- Networking Support – “Out-of-the-box support allows calling REST, WS*/SOAP, POX, RSS and standard HTTP services, enabling users to create applications that easily integrate with existing back-end systems,” says Microsoft’s press release.
- Deep Zoom – Microsoft is really hyping the new “Deep Zoom” feature in Silverlight, which is essentially a control that allows smooth zooming and panning of ultra high resolution images without much load time. It’s pretty cool, but it seems like it would have only a limited, niche appeal and makes me wonder why it is included on such a low level in the plugin.
“We wanted to build a cutting-edge, rich Internet application that enables our customers to search our vast database of content and metadata so they can access movie reviews, watch high-quality movie trailers, and either rent or buy movies from our new MovieLink application,” said Keith Morrow, chief information officer at Blockbuster in a press release. “Because Silverlight 2 now includes several new rich controls such as data grids and advanced skinning capabilities, as well as support for the .NET Framework, allowing us to access our existing Web services, we were able to easily maintain the high standards of the Blockbuster brand and bring the application to market in record time.”
Microsoft is also touting their commitment to “openness and interoperability” around Silverlight 2. They’ll be funding a project to add Silverlight development capabilities to the open source Eclipse IDE, will release the Silverlight Control Pack under an open source license, and plan to publish the Silverlight XAML vocabulary specification.
As we reported last month Microsoft is already working on Silverlight 3, which will feature support for h.264 and AAC audio.