Microsoft recently released Silverlight 3 and Expression Studio 3. How do these updated products position Microsoft against its RIA competitors, Adobe Flash and JavaFX? We had a chance to ask Chris Swenson, Senior Strategy Manager for the .NET Platform at Microsoft, a few questions about these releases.
DZone - In your opinion, what is the biggest new feature of Silverlight 3?
Chris Swenson - Silverlight 3 delivers several new features and capabilities, but there are two in particular I think developers will find especially significant. First, we’ve enabled out-of-browser support in Silverlight 3, which allows Web sites to build even closer, persistent relationships with customers. This new capability enables applications to run outside the browser in a safe, secure and sandboxed manner. Additionally, applications can detect a loss of connectivity and then cache work until the connection is restored, allowing developers to continue to work on an application offline and have it automatically update when their connection is restored. Silverlight out-of-browser support truly shows how Microsoft is innovating in the core areas that are critical to the changing design and development landscape by delivering software that can live both on and offline.
Second, Internet Information Services 7.0 (IIS7) Smooth Streaming is now fully supported in Silverlight 3, enabling true HD (1080p) video to be served for both live and on-demand content. This support allows users to experience online video like never before as Smooth Streaming dynamically detects and seamlessly switches, in real time, the video quality of a media file delivered to Silverlight-based media players on local bandwidth and CPU conditions. Dozens of companies are utilizing Smooth Streaming to deliver HDTV-quality online video including: NBC Sports (Wimbledon Live, 2010 Vancouver Olympics), CBSSports.com (2009 NCAA Men’s March Madness Tournament), MTV Canada (Canadian Music Video Awards) and France Televisions (Tour de France, Roland Garros aka the French open) to name a few.
If you’d like to see a demo of both of these new feature and capabilities, plus information on Silverlight 3’s other top new features, I encourage you to check them out here.
DZone - What's new in SL3 that many developers may not have heard about?
Chris - Silverlight 3 has several new features that will improve developer productivity beyond what I discussed in the previous questions. Silverlight 3 delivers over 60 high quality, fully skinnable and customizable out-of-the-box controls (that come with professionally designed themes as well as source code), enhanced data binding and data validation features, as well as support for Deep Linking which dramatically automates SEO tasks.
DZone - Some people in the .NET community have been finding it difficult to keep up with Silverlight's short release cycles. What is the reason for the timing of the release?
DZone - Actually, the majority of customers that have been our early adopters have said that they wanted certain features in Silverlight in order to build the type of experiences that they wanted. These features include perspective 3D Graphics, Pixel Shader Effects, Animation Effects and Enhanced Control Skinning. Our goal is to provide developers and designers with the best platform for creating the richest, most compelling experiences, and so we strive hard to listen to customer feedback, and respond to their needs in a rapid fashion.
DZone - Is there a target date for the release of Expression 3?
Chris - Yes - Expression 3 was released on July 22, 2009. To purchase Expression 3, you can visit the Expression Web page and order a copy on the purchase page. Or, if you’d like to test it out first, you can download the 60 day trial version online here. For a full list of the new features in Expression 3 you can check out the Expression 3 Fact Sheet on the Silverlight and Expression Virtual Press Room.
DZone - Will .NET RIA Services ship with Visual Studio 2010, or will it be an out-of-band release?
Chris - .NET RIA Services, hosted services that allow customers to easily create federated applications that span from on-premises to the cloud, will be an out-of-band release. This year at MIX ‘09, Microsoft announced that it has committed to updating .NET RIA Services based on customer feedback, with a roadmap targeting releases several times a year.
DZone - Is it possible to target the SL2 runtime with the new SL3 developer tools the way you can target previous .NET runtimes in Visual Studio 2008?
Chris - No. To build Silverlight 2 applications with Visual Studio 2008, we recommend that developers use the Silverlight 2 developer tools for Visual Studio 2008. However, the vast majority of customers that we’ve surveyed plan to move to Silverlight 3 as soon as possible given the dramatic improvements to developer productivity the new version enables.
DZone - How should developers choose between building an out-of-browser application with Silverlight or a WPF app?
Chris - With Silverlight 3.0, we have introduced Out of Browser capabilities for the plug-in, which (as the name suggests) enables users to run applications outside of the Web browser. Although we provide integration with desktop icons, the start menu and the applications folder, these applications run inside a secure sandbox with persistent isolated storage (in addition, Silverlight 3.0 enables users to run applications whether the computer is connected to the Internet or not).
Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications are Windows-only applications -- running on .NET Framework version 3.0 and above -- that can fully utilize the capabilities of your PC (such as hardware accelerated graphics) and the Windows operating system (for desktop, file and system integration).
WPF is your best choice if your application needs:
- integration with devices such as USB and firewire peripherals
- full operating system integration including the file system
- full 3D, visual effects, DirectX integration
- sophisticated printing capabilities
- flexible, granular security
- the full power of the .NET Framework
- integration with other local applications (such as Microsoft Office)
Silverlight is your best choice if your application needs:
- to work anywhere
- to work on a mobile device
- to use new advertising capabilities such as Deep Zoom
- to grow your investment from desktop to web and device
It is important to note that Silverlight is based on WPF and we are continually increasing compatibility between the two platforms. By using a consistent API, the same set of tools, the same development languages and the same programming model, developers can learn .NET development once and apply it anywhere. Further, they can port applications from WPF to Silverlight, or vice versa, making it easier to preserve their existing investments.
DZone - What would you say is the key differentiator between Silverlight and Flash at this point?
Chris - Silverlight was built from the ground up to simplify the creation of complex Web applications that meet the high expectations of end users today. With Silverlight 3, we’re introducing a number of game-changing features all at the lowest costs in the industry, including those I’ve already touched on like out of browser capabilities and Smooth Streaming, as well as integration with Expression Blend SketchFlow. Silverlight has only been on the market for less than 2 years, and because of the power and performance of Microsoft's platform and tools, more and more companies such as NBC Sports, Netflix, MGM Stargate and Continental airlines are betting their business on Silverlight and Expression (more can be found on www.microsoft.com/silverlight).
DZone - What does the future hold for Silverlight? Can you share any of Microsoft's plans for v4?
Chris - Microsoft remains committed to Silverlight’s rapid pace of innovation and you can expect that we’ll continue to invest in Silverlight in order to provide the most cutting-edge Web development tools to the over 6 million .NET developers worldwide. We don’t have any specific details to share about future versions of Silverlight at this time, but welcome user feedback on Silverlight 3. A great place to join in the conversation is at the Silverlight Community Site or the Silverlight Blog.