10 Things You Should Know About Microsoft's Silverlight

Crafting a Web strategy is important for any thriving business. However, implementing that strategy with rich Internet applications is not always as easy as it should be. To ease that pain, Microsoft Corp. recently announced Silverlight, a cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in for Web application developers. The plug-in, currently available as a Release Candidate (which for all intents and purposes means it's released now), enables rich application development including media, interactivity and animation. The Silverlight plug-in currently works with Internet Explorer and Firefox Web browsers on Windows and with Firefox and Safari on Mac OS X.

I've been using Silverlight since I taught a course for internal Microsoft developers, shortly before the software's public unveiling as "WPF/E." I've written several books about Microsoft-based software development, such as Pragmatic ADO.Net (Addison-Wesley Professional, 2002), I co-wrote four Microsoft developer certification books, and I have invested quite a bit of time in examining the promises that the company is making for this "Flash killer." It's always hard to be critical of software that isn't fully released yet -- for one thing, it's impossible to point out serious bugs since they may be addressed by the time you fire up the development tool -- but the following reflects my professional and technical judgment based on several months of hands-on experience.

With the public release of Silverlight imminent, now is the right time to become familiar with the software and how it might affect your Web application strategy. With so much Silverlight information available right now, it is difficult to distill what is important and what is hype. I'll do my best to lift the fog with these 10 things that you should know about Microsoft's Silverlight.

1. Silverlight Avoids Cross-Browser/OS Issues

For most development teams, developing a Web site that will work identically with popular browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Opera, is a difficult proposition. The problem is not simply the necessity for multiple code implementations but also exponentially large testing sets. As a developer creates matrices of browser versions and operating systems, the number of testbeds needed becomes enormous.

Usually, there are two ways that a development project addresses this: support only a small subset of Web browsers or increase the number of quality assurance personnel.

In contrast, the Silverlight plug-in enables an identical development model regardless of user operating system and browser. Currently, two operating systems and three browsers are supported. Microsoft is promising to add support for the Opera browser on Windows and Mac. In addition, the Mono project has made tremendous strides in its Moonlight project, which intends to bring Silverlight to Linux.

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