Microsoft Looks to Outshine Flash With Silverlight Tool

New technology for rich-media apps will broaden competition with Adobe

Microsoft Corp. this week will formally announce software for delivering rich media applications within multiple Web browsers as part of its broader strategy to compete head to head with Web design tools powerhouse Adobe Systems Inc.

Forest Key, a product management director in Microsoft’s server and tools division, said the Silverlight technology is a browser plug-in that companies can use to offer video, audio and other types of interactive media on their Web sites. He added that Silverlight — which had been code-named Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, or WPF/E — is compatible with a range of browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari.

The tool, which leverages the WPF graphics framework built into Windows Vista, will make its debut at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas. But it still isn’t ready to ship. Key said Microsoft will release a beta version of Silverlight and announce general availability plans at its own Mix07 conference, which starts April 30 in Las Vegas.

He noted that the company is targeting content providers that want to distribute videos and other rich media over the Web, designers and developers who are building interactive applications, and end users who want the best possible Web-viewing experience.

Microsoft will highlight the video-delivery capabilities at this week’s NAB conference. But Key said it also plans to show how companies can use Silverlight in a manner similar to the way they use Adobe’s Flash software to create Web-based applications.

Microsoft says Silverlight will support Web applications with rich media content, such as this one featuring images from the movie Fantastic Four. Courtesy of Microsoft Corp

Microsoft says Silverlight will support Web applications with rich media content, such as this one featuring images from the movie Fantastic Four.

Courtesy of Microsoft Corp

Keith Cutcliffe, an IT developer and analyst at ProAssurance Corp. in Birmingham, Ala., said he’s skeptical that Microsoft will ever gain the faithful user base that Adobe has. However, he added, corporate users who have developed Flash applications to run on Microsoft-based Web infrastructures may switch to Silverlight and Expression — a companion suite of design tools — because of their underlying ties to Microsoft’s back-end computing platform.

Cutcliffe has evaluated Silverlight and some of the Expression tools, and he said he expects that ProAssurance will use the products if they’re as impressive in action as they were in the Microsoft demonstrations he has seen.

Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software Inc. in Point Richmond, Calif., said he thinks Silverlight will fill a large gap in Microsoft’s strategy to support the development of applications that combine the stability of desktop programs with the user experience of Web applications.

“Previously, Flash was the only answer,” Stanfield said. “Now Silverlight becomes a viable alternative.”

Microsoft is pitching the Expression tool set, which should be ready for general release in June, as an alternative to Adobe’s recently released Creative Suite 3 software. Applications created with the Expression tools can be delivered to users via Silverlight, Key said.

Montalbano writes for the IDG News Service.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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