Microsoft Partners Pumped Over Silverlight 2

Silverlight, a subset of the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) system that powers Windows Vista, is Microsoft's attempt to trump Adobe's Flash technology by offering better-looking, more advanced display and interactive functionality, as well as superior tooling support.

In earlier versions of Silverlight, developers were restricted to writing code with Javascript, but Silverlight 2 adds support for .Net, Visual Basic, C#, IronPython and IronRuby. This will help improve the Silverlight development experience, which in the past was “extremely hairy and messy,” according to Jordan Snyder, software architect at EffectiveUI, a Denver-based Rich Internet Application (RIA) provider.

“The additional language support will drive a lot of adoption, because now just about anyone can get into Silverlight,” she said.

Adoption is exactly what Microsoft wants to drive with Silverlight 2, and in an announcement on its PressPass Web site, the software giant went to great lengths the tout the progress it has made thus far in this regard.

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NBC’s online coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games attracted in excess of 50 million unique visitors to the Silverlight-powered Web site, boosting Silverlight’s U.S. market share by some 30 percent, according to Microsoft, which also claims that 25 percent of the world’s consumers now have access to a Silverlight-equipped PC.

Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, a Richmond, Calif.-based firm that has developed high profile Silverlight Web sites for Hard Rock Cafe, Democratic National Convention and Microsoft’s Mojave Experiment, is impressed with the pace of Silverlight adoption, even though it hasn't been publicly available.

“Frankly, the fact that Silverlight 2 has been in Beta 2 for a while really hasn't stopped us or our clients when it comes to adoption, but it’s great to get [the Silverlight 2 launch] behind us,” Stanfield said.

One of the most common Silverlight-related complaints that Microsoft has heard from developers has been the lack of out-of-the-box user interface components and controls that developers need to dive in and start building applications.

Dave Meeker, user experience strategy lead at Roundarch, a Chicago-based Web development firm, says Microsoft has done well in addressing these issues in Silverlight 2.

“Having a healthy assortment of controls at your disposal reduces the learning curve of building applications and makes it less challenging for developers to get up to speed on things,” said Meeker.

Microsoft's steps to get Silverlight more exposure in the open source community represent an important behavioral shift, albeit one that’s likely to take some time to bear fruit.

In addition to funding advanced Silverlight development with the Eclipse Foundation’s integrated development environment (IDE), Microsoft will also offer developers the Silverlight Control Pack (SCP) and make public the technical specification for the Silverlight Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) vocabulary, in a bid to make it easier for ISVs to build apps that read and write XAML for Silverlight.

"The XAML technical spec is a sign that we might be seeing a new, friendlier and more open Microsoft," Meeker said. "It will definitely lead to folks that might have passed on Microsoft’s technology in the past to revisit it as a possible weapon in their development arsenal."