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3/18/2009
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Mix 09: Microsoft Tweaks Silverlight To Deflect Adobe

Version 3.0 of its rich Internet application platform will include a number of new video, graphics and data-related features ... and a smaller download package.

Adobe Flash and AIR, watch out. Microsoft Silverlight will soon work outside the browser as part of the next version of the multimedia browser plug-in.

Microsoft on Wednesday released the beta version of Silverlight 3.0 and announced a slew of other technologies at its Mix Web developer conference, all aimed at attracting Web developers to the Microsoft platform.

Silverlight 3, a final version of which will ship later this year, includes -- in addition to the ability to run Silverlight applications offline and outside of the browser -- a number of new video, graphics, and data-related features. Despite the added features, Silverlight 3 will actually come in a smaller download package than its predecessor.

With the out-of-browser support, developers can create Silverlight applications designed to run on the desktop, much like eBay Desktop, which was designed in Adobe AIR. Seattle radio station KEXP demonstrated a desktop Silverlight application that lets listeners play music, see additional details about songs being played, interact with a DJ and download content and play it inside the app when the user is offline. Silverlight desktop apps will run inside a secure sandbox environment, can detect whether the user is connected to the Internet, and have support for automatic updates.

In terms of video support, Silverlight 3 gets hardware-based graphics acceleration, new codec support for formats like H.264, AAC audio and MPEG-4, APIs to allow developers to plug in their own codecs, and improved analytics. New graphics capabilities include the ability to transform any image in three dimensions, pixel shader effects and upgrades to DeepZoom that integrate hardware acceleration to zoom far into a huge image. One app Microsoft demonstrated added effects like movement, shading, magnification, and embossing to a live video, images, and text controls.

Designers aren't the only ones who get new features in Silverlight 3. Microsoft has added support for deep linking so that users can send links to specific parts of a Silverlight app and to make the apps searchable by search engines. There's also improved text quality via ClearType support, multi-touch support, more than 100 new controls for things like charting and layout, and a number of new data-related features.

Microsoft rolled out a few key customers, including NBC, Netflix, and a company named Bondi that's building a back issue viewer for Rolling Stone and Playboy based on Silverlight. SAP also announced future Silverlight support. Silverlight has nowhere near the reach of Adobe Flash yet, but has seen 350 million downloads, according to Microsoft.

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