Microsoft Releases Silverlight 2.0

The software giant is hoping the Silverlight upgrade will push adoption of the plug-in close to rates enjoyed by its ubiquitous competitor, Adobe Flash.
Microsoft announced Monday the imminent availability of Silverlight 2.0, the company's rich Web application plug-in that today competes primarily with Adobe Flash.

With Silverlight 2.0, Microsoft is hoping to push Silverlight beyond Flash competition by taking its plug-in much further than it did with the mostly video-focused first version. Silverlight 2.0 has not only enhanced video support, but includes a subset of the company's popular .Net Framework; supports new programming languages like C#, Python, and Ruby; and can call Web services and Atom endpoints to support componentized Web apps.

The plug-in will be available for download Tuesday, with automatic updates for those with earlier versions due in the next few weeks (though businesses will be able to control those updates). Silverlight will run in Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer on Windows and Mac OS, and Novell is working on a version for Linux.

Along with the availability of Silverlight, Microsoft also announced new tooling support for the software. The company introduced development and design tools that will work with Visual Studio 2008, Visual Studio Web Developer Express, and Expression Blend and will include features like common controls. "The net take is, we think from a dev perspective it's a rich programming platform, and from a designer perspective, they can be a first-class citizen to work with developers," Microsoft developer division VP Scott Guthrie said in a conference call announcing the news.

Microsoft also is poised to release its own Web applications developed using Silverlight. Within the next few months, Guthrie said, Microsoft will begin announcing a number of products and technologies that will "take pretty big advantage of Silverlight." The company already has used Silverlight for more than 100 marketing campaigns on, but it has yet to release a product developed in Silverlight.

In an attempt to bring more non-Microsoft and open source developers into the fold, Microsoft announced that it would be funding the development of Silverlight-related capability in the Eclipse Foundation's open source development environment, not only Microsoft's Visual Studio.

That's part of what Microsoft developer platform group director Brian Goldfarb called a "commitment to openness and interoperability" in Silverlight that also includes new open source controls that Microsoft is releasing on its CodePlex open source forge under the Microsoft Public License, and the Silverlight XAML Vocabulary the company is making available for free and with few restrictions under its Open Specification Promise.

Silverlight doesn't have anywhere near the penetration rates of Adobe Flash, which is installed on almost 100% of Web-connected computers, by some estimates. However, Microsoft says about a quarter of computer users worldwide now have access to a computer that has Silverlight installed, and Silverlight is now installed on almost 50% of computers in some countries, driven by high-profile content deals like one with NBC that brought Silverlight-powered video to more than 50 million unique visitors during the Beijing Olympics this summer.

Among the other big Silverlight partners so far are broadcasters in France, the Netherlands, Russia, and Italy. The Democratic National Convention was streamed live via Silverlight, CBS College Sports has begun using the multimedia technology, Blockbuster will go live later this month with a Silverlight-based movie reviews and rentals service, and AOL will soon release the next version of its Webmail as a Silverlight Web app. Hewlett-Packard is also now shipping Silverlight with every new PC it sells. With the final version of Silverlight 2.0 out now, Microsoft believes adoption will begin "in earnest."

Other new features in Silverlight 2.0 include skinning and template support, an image-zooming feature called Deep Zoom, improved networking support, built-in DRM, and advertising support.

Other than new Silverlight-based applications from Microsoft, it's unclear what the future holds for the plug-in. Microsoft wouldn't comment on whether there will be any distribution tie-ins with Windows 7, and the company didn't announce any new features that would be included in Silverlight 3.0. However, one Microsoft source recently said the company would include PHP support in future versions, and Guthrie said Microsoft is looking into the possibility of Google Chrome support.