Microsoft releases Silverlight rich media player

Redmond aiming for 200 million downloads by mid-2008

Microsoft Corp. on Tuesday officially released version 1.0 of its Silverlight rich media player.

Redmond also announced several high-profile partners that will deliver video and Web content via Silverlight, including the Home Shopping Network, World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and the TV show Entertainment Tonight.

Microsoft hopes such partnerships will help drive more than 200 million downloads of the player by the end of June next year, according to Brian Goldfarb, a group product manager for platform & tools strategy in Microsoft's developer division.

Microsoft is consciously not pushing Silverlight to users out via Windows Update, preferring to stimulate demand for the product through its partnerships. Microsoft had previously announced, Netflix Inc. and CBS Corp.'s TV stations division as Silverlight partners.

Today, it said that an additional 35 companies are signed up as members of the Silverlight Partner Initiative.

Microsoft is making its move on turf currently controlled by Adobe Systems Inc.'s Flash player, which is used by YouTube videos, for example.

The beta and release candidate versions of Silverlight, which boasts 720p high-definition video that trumps the existing version of Flash, have garnered several million downloads so far, Goldfarb said.

Adobe is releasing Moviestar, an upgrade to Flash that supports better-quality video than today. But Goldfarb said that Silverlight will still offer "significantly better" video quality than Moviestar, especially on less-powerful PCs.

Microsoft also said it will work with Novell Inc. on the Linux version of Silverlight, to be called Moonlight.

Microsoft will build the video codecs for the Moonlight project and supply Novell with software to test and ensure Silverlight runs well on 32-bit and 64-bit PCs running Suse Linux, Red Hat and Ubuntu, Goldfarb said.

Moonlight is expected to be ready within six months, Goldfarb said.

Microsoft also officially released its Expression Encoder 1.0 software for designers to create Silverlight content.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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