Web developers often frown on the use of technologies like Macromedia Flash or Adobe Shockwave to spice up Web interfaces. Since these technologies are not Web standards, they may not properly work in all browsers. Even so, some developers continue to use these technologies. Recognizing an area of technology without a presence, Microsoft has thrown its considerable weight behind an initiative to make inroads in the area now dominated by Flash with its Silverlight product.
What is Silverlight?
Microsoft describes Silverlight as a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web. The plug-in is for rendering the applications in your browser. The plug-in is available for the Mac OS (version 10.4.8) and Windows 2000/XP/Vista and Server 2003. The following browsers are supported: Internet Explorer 6 and 7, Firefox 1.5 and 2.0, and Safari.
Silverlight is closely tied to the .NET Framework, but it is self-contained; that is, it does not require Windows or the .NET Framework — everything is available in the plug-in to handle Silverlight pages. In fact, the XAML used within Silverlight is a subset of the XAML in Windows Vista and the .NET Framework.
Silverlight's XAML focuses on the Web development aspects of the language and leaves out the desktop elements. Silverlight includes a mini Common Language Runtime (CLR) from .NET. This means that a subset of the full .NET platform that runs on desktops can be accessed from within the browser.
In addition to the XAML support in Silverlight, Microsoft's suite of Expression tools, particularly Microsoft Expression Design and Microsoft Expression Blend, allow designers to assemble graphical artifacts and UIs with XAML as the end result. Also, there is a tool available to convert existing Flash animations to the XAML format. You can learn more about Silverlight development at the Silverlight Developer Center.
I have never been a big advocate of Flash or Shockwave when building Web interfaces. One problem with a technology like Flash is learning a whole new development environment, as well as a language with ActionScript. One positive aspect of Silverlight is its usage of existing Microsoft technologies and a tool like Visual Studio 2005 — technologies and tools that I use every day.
Silverlight requires a browser plug-in just like competing technologies, so the paradigm hasn't shifted that much. The plug-in requirement raises issues with Web standards and a Web application properly loading in all browsers.
It will be interesting to see if Microsoft can make inroads on the well-established customer bases of both Adobe and Macromedia. Also, it remains to be seen whether user interface developers will embrace the product.
What do you think of Silverlight?
If you have examined Silverlight, what are your thoughts? Do you like including Flash or Shockwave based content in your Web applications? Share your experience with the Web development community.
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Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.
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Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a production environment on a daily basis.