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Microsoft Releases Silverlight 3 Beta with Key New Features

Microsoft today released the beta of its Silverlight 3 rich interactive media runtime and development environment. The widely anticipated upgrade promises to be a substantial improvement with support for high-definition video, improved navigation, multi-touch support in Windows 7 and the ability for Web developers to build applications that run outside the browser.

Speaking at the annual MIX09 conference in Las Vegas, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft's .NET developer platform, said he anticipates this will be the only beta before Silverlight 3 ships later this year.

Guthrie underscored support for Microsoft's current developer tooling as well the "thousands of new APIs." It will work with Visual Studio 2008 and its forthcoming successor Visual Studio 2010, as well as Visual Web Developer 2008 Express, he said.

Microsoft also said Apple Macintosh developers will be able to create Silverlight-based applications with a new Eclipse plug-in. The company said it has commissioned France-based Soyatec to develop the Eclipse Tools for Silverlight (Eclipse4SL).

"We think it's going to be a great release," Guthrie said, pointing out that Silverlight 3 will include 60 new controls with source code and 50 new features, yet is slightly smaller than the current Silverlight 2. The new release is 4.4MB. "The download size is a core part of the experience," he said. 

Despite the improvements, Guthrie acknowledged Silverlight 3 will not initially have a few sought-after features -- notably printing, microphone and webcam support, though he said in a Q&A that his team is working on those capabilities.

Among the 60 new controls are charting, media and layout containers, and those that support autocomplete, treeview and datagrid, Microsoft said.

To improve performance, Silverlight 3 will reduce the size of applications by caching data on the client. Support for Binary XML will also allow improved communications with servers by using compression. Silverlight client apps will be able to communicate with each other without requiring a link to the server, such as a charting app that links to a datagrid, Microsoft said.

Silverlight 3 will also allow developers to work within the new Expression Blend 3 tooling for Web designers, which Guthrie also previewed today. The new Expression Blend 3 includes improved workflows and offers a rapid prototyping function that allows for content creators and developers to design and test applications without access to live data.

Expression Blend 3 introduces a new feature aimed at creating more dynamic content called SketchFlow, designed to let developers and designers model and build prototypes and share them with others within the workflow.

The new Expression Blend will also support Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator files, and will include a code editor that supports C#, Visual Basic and XAML.

Developers using Expression Blend 3 will also be able to use a new API to write triggers or actions to Silverlight 3 or to Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications. It will also let developers add components without writing code, Guthrie said.

HD and 3-D Video
Looking to upgrade the visual experience of Silverlight, Microsoft is adding hardware-based 3-D graphics acceleration for PCs running Windows as well as for Macintosh computers. It will support key encoding standards lacking in the prior release, notably H.264 and MPEG. It will also allow HD playback of live and pre-recorded video in 720p, Microsoft said. Furthermore, it will enable traditional digital video recorder functions such as playback, record, rewind and slow-motion.   

Touting Silverlight's first major widespread deployment by NBC which allowed millions of users to watch the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the network used Guthrie's keynote to announce that it would use Silverlight's new HD and DVR features for next year's Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"When you walk out of your house in the morning and you've left your beautiful 52-inch HD television at home, and you sit down at your desk and want to grab some video from the Olympics that day, it's going to mirror that experience," said Perkins Miller, senior vice president for digital media at NBC.

To support live streaming, Microsoft also launched IIS Media Services, available as a free download. It runs on top of Internet Information Server.

"With IIS Smooth Streaming, you can now encode video, put it onto a Web Server and deliver that experience," Guthrie said. "This is as easy as FTP-ing up files onto a Web server."

The Silverlight 3 beta can be downloaded here.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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