Microsoft Releases Silverlight, Pledges Linux Support

Novell's Mono team was already at work on a Silverlight implementation, dubbed "Moonlight." While Microsoft executives had given the project their tacit support, they've now upped their commitment and will be formally collaborating with Novell on the initiative. The move reverses Microsoft's earlier position that desktop Linux didn't have the market share to justify devoting resources to porting Silverlight.

"We have been listening to customer feedback and the message was clear: 'We want Silverlight enabled on Linux," said Microsoft senior product manager Parimal Deshpande. Novell, which already had the Moonlight project under way and began cuddling up to Microsoft last year with its controversial patents armistice, was a natural partner for the effort.

Silverlight is Microsoft's bid to tug market share for Web multimedia technology away from Adobe, whose Flash has long been the unrivaled standard for Web animation and interactive multimedia content. Partners say Silverlight is a robust platform with an easier programming model than Flash's: developers can program Silverlight applications using familiar .Net methods, and they'll soon be able to use scripting languages such as Python or Ruby.

But Flash's greatest advantage is its ubiquity. Adobe's research shows that Flash is installed on 90 percent of the world's Internet-connected PCs. Silverlight, which requires users to download the runtime client, starts with a market penetration of near zero. For now, Microsoft isn't planning to push Silverlight out through its Windows Update service. It says it will rely on users to choose to install the runtime as they encounter Silverlight applications.

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To speed along that process, Microsoft is enlisting partners tapped into the mass-culture zeitgeist and relying on its own distribution muscle. Silverlight will soon be the standard across Microsoft destinations and will underpin prominent projects like its highly anticipated "Halo 3" video game previews, which are currently running in Flash. Other content providers partnering with Microsoft include Netflix,, "Entertainment Tonight," World Wrestling Entertainment and the Home Shopping Network.

Microsoft is also seeding the Silverlight waters with partner initiatives, though concrete details of planned "training and marketing" programs are still being worked out. Microsoft has assembled a group of 35 early-adopter partners that will advise the company on what marketing and educational programs they want to see offered, Deshpande said. The participating partners are drawn from the fields Microsoft is targeting for Silverlight, which include design agencies, ISVs, systems integrators, and content delivery networks and infrastructure providers.

Silverlight 1.0, the version launched Tuesday, is Microsoft's initial dive into multimedia waters, but developers say Silverlight will really become competitive when Microsoft releases 1.1, which will include the .Net 3.0 Framework with Microsoft's full Common Language Runtime. That release will dramatically advance Silverlight's programmability.

Silverlight 1.1, currently in alpha, is loosely slated for release by the end of the year, but Deshpande emphasized that Microsoft isn't committing to any firm timeline. "It's not a time-driven release, it's a quality-driven release," he said. A new preview version of Silverlight 1.1 is slated for release Tuesday, alongside Silverlight 1.0.

On Moonlight's timeline, Microsoft is more direct: "Six months from today is the goal," Deshpande said.