Shine on, Silverlight

By KENT SHARKEY on 5/1/2008 2:09:19 PM

While many developers are comfortable creating Web sites with ASP.NET or other technologies, users continually want more responsive applications, as they are used to from desktop applications like Microsoft Excel. Adobe Flash has been the main tool used to create "Rich Internet Applications" in the past. However, now Microsoft has stepped up with Silverlight. This is a cross-browser, cross-platform development tool that is similar to Flash, but that uses Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) as its output format. This means that developers familiar with creating desktop applications using WPF, or those that use Visual Studio, will be immediately familiar with creating Silverlight applications.

Silverlight gives developers the rich user interface they expect from Windows applications, but with the reach of a Web application. You host the Silverlight content within a Web page. Users that already have the plugin installed will then see your application upon hitting the page. The plugin is currently available for Windows and Macintosh computers, and will soon be available for Linux computers through the work of an open source group working closely with Microsoft. If the user doesn't have the plugin installed, they only have to wait for a 2 MB download. In addition, Silverlight applications load and display quickly.

Silverlight applications consist of a syntax of XML known as XAML. This is the same XAML used for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications. This XAML can be created by hand, or using a design tool, such as Visual Studio or Microsoft Expression.

Is Silverlight here to stay? Time will tell, but there are more companies beginning to use it every day. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Bill Gates announced that NBC would be making video from the Bejing Olympics available online using Silverlight. The National Baseball Association uses it to provide highlights on their Web site. In addition, a number of third party companies are creating controls for use with Silverlight.

The primary question that developers should make about Silverlight is "which version?" Currently, Silverlight 1.0 is available. This uses JavaScript as its development language. Silverlight 2.0 has already been announced and is available in an Beta release. This version will enable the creation of compiled Silverlight applications using Visual Basic or C#. The benefit is that not only will developers be able to build Silverlight applications using the languages they already know, but the resulting applications will be compiled and run much faster than the ones written in Silverlight 1.0.

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