Microsoft readies Silverlight 2 beta

Shedding new light on the company's Silverlight 2 browser plug-in technology, a Microsoft Corp. official wrote a blog post on Friday morning that emphasized RIA (rich Internet application) development capabilities planned for an upcoming beta release.

Scott Guthrie, general manager in Microsoft's developer division, provided a list of features planned for Silverlight 2 and the beta in his blog. A Microsoft representative subsequently described the blog as the most detail provided to date on Silverlight 2.

With the Silverlight platform, Microsoft is expected to tackle Adobe Systems Inc. and its popular Flash technology in the RIA space. Microsoft's Mix08 conference in Las Vegas in two weeks seems like the obvious place to introduce the beta, since Silverlight was the star attraction at the Mix07 conference last year. The Microsoft representative would not comment on whether this would actually be the case but did acknowledge plans to ship the beta during the first quarter of this year.

Featured in Version 2 is a cross-platform, cross-browser version of the .Net Framework, Guthrie said. Developers can write Silverlight applications using a .Net language, such as Visual Basic, C#, JavaScript, IronPython or IronRuby. Microsoft plans to ship support for developer/designer workflow and integration for Silverlight in its Visual Studio 2008 and Expression Studio tools.

The introduction of Silverlight 2, which had previously been named Silverlight 1.1, is critical to Microsoft as it battles Adobe, an analyst said.

"That's the one that uses the .Net Framework for programming so it can leverage all of Microsoft's developer tools," said Rob Helm, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft, an independent research firm. "Developer tools could become Microsoft's secret weapon," since many developers already are familiar with Visual Studio and .Net Framework, he said.

The 1.0 version of Silverlight has been more geared to video, while Silverlight 2 adds .Net development and transactional capabilities. To bolster RIA development, the Beta 1 release will include a Windows Presentation Foundation UI framework for building rich Web applications. It offers a "powerful" graphics and animation engine, plus support for higher-level capabilities, such as controls, layout management, data-binding and template skinning, Guthrie said.

The Beta 1 release is 4.3MB in size.

"Once Silverlight 2 is installed, you can browse the Web and automatically run rich Silverlight applications within your browser of choice," Guthrie said. This includes such browsers as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and others.

Rich controls in the Silverlight 2 beta include core form controls, such as TextBox and RadioButton. Built-in layout management panels, such as Grid and Panel, are offered as well. Functionality controls like Calender and DatePicker, as well as data manipulation controls, are also part of the beta. "The built-in controls support a rich control templating model, which enables developers and designers to collaborate together to build highly polished solutions," Guthrie said.

For networking, Silverlight 2 backs REST (Representational State Transfer), WS-* and SOAP, as well RSS, POX and HTTP services. Cross-domain network access in Silverlight 2 enables Silverlight clients to directly access resources and data from resources on the Web. Built-in sockets networking is also included in the beta release.

Silverlight 2 features a rich .Net base class library of functionality, such as collections, generics threading, globalization, XML and local storage. Rich APIs in the product enable HTML DOM/JavaScript integration with .Net code.

Also featured is Microsoft's LINQ (Language Integrated Query) technology, which provides native query syntax for C# and Visual Basic, and LINQ to XML library support. This enables easy transformation and querying of data, Guthrie said. Local data caching and storage support are highlighted as well in Silverlight 2.

.Net APIs in Silverlight "are a compatible subset of the full .Net Framework," Guthrie said.

"Silverlight 2 does not require the .Net Framework to be installed on a computer in order to run. The Silverlight setup download includes everything necessary to enable all the above features (and more we'll be talking about shortly) on a vanilla Mac OSX or Windows machine," Guthrie said.

Silverlight 2 applications can be migrated to become desktop applications by using Windows Presentation Foundation and the full .Net framework.

This story, "Microsoft readies Silverlight 2 beta" was originally published by InfoWorld.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon