Big Screen Blog

Media Center, Windows Phone7 + Silverlight Goodness..

Silverlight 2.0 is coming… (and Microsoft isn’t just ‘listening to your feedback’)

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Although this news is a little old (announced last week) – it’s hard not to get really excited by the new developments happening over in the Silverlight camp at Microsoft for the upcoming Beta 1 release of Silverlight 2.0. (which I believe is being scheduled for launch at Mix ’08 next week).

Silverlight 2.0 (formerly known as Silverlight 1.1) is essentially the cross platform technology trying to give Flash a run for it’s money in the RIA space – but leverages the ‘developer’ focused tools, technologies and audience that Microsoft has by using .NET and XAML – which in turn means you get great tools like Visual Studio 2008 to work with coupled with design tools like Expression Blend (which are starting to take shape – although still quite a way to go there).

While a lot of ‘designers’ out there will just say Microsoft are simply playing ‘catch up’ with Adobe – I think Adobe never quite understood the whole ‘developer IDE’ thing (and I know I was pretty put off Flash everytime I had to do any project work involving more than 10 lines of code – as the ActionScript etc experience is really quite disturbing for anyone spoilt by Visual Studio – or just about any other Developer IDE such as Borland’s, Eclipse etc etc).

 

What’s so good about Silverlight 2.0 – didn’t 1.0 tank?

While Silverlight 1.0 didn’t get a lot of traction against Flash last year (and the fact that most of the Microsoft sites still use Flash instead of Silverlight is proof of that) – it was a great ‘start’ and a sign of MS moving forward from WPF/.NETv3 (which ‘sported’ a pretty buggy, incompatible and clunky runtime platform – and made it pretty unusable/un-deployable in the vast majority of scenarios).  After WPF –  Silverlight 1.0 came back – reduced the feature set (substantially) – but offered a mean/lean runtime which was (sortof) cross platform – and actually made it a serious contender in the RIA space.

The really promising thing with Silverlight 2.0 (and the team behind it) – is that after initially announcing 1.1 (which was essentially the addition of a cross platform version of .NET – but not much else – where 1.0 used javascript from the HTML layer) – they appear to have ‘reinvented’ themselves and added a whole bunch of things developers were asking for. (well according to this post at least) – including some of these things :

  • controls, controls, controls… (with SL 1.0 you had to reinvent the wheel from primatives – ie. not even a scroller, listbox or flow layout panel was provided)
  • reduced cross domain security restrictions  (SL 1.0 was massively restrictive in that everything had to come from the same domain- which was I guess a great big misunderstanding of how Web 2.0 actually worked.) – and true support for a raft of commonly used webservice models and even socket support.
  • Styles, Templating and more. (aka. Some of the great features that made initially WPF a fantastic ‘specification’ are back – and this time *hopefully* they don’t perform like a bucket-of-crap).

Although not directly mentioned – I really do hope some of these other things get improved/sorted (either for this BETA 1 release or at least for the full release) :

  • Full 64 bit compatibility (ie. so we can use Silverlight in 64bit containers – ie. Vista Sidebar and Vista on 64bit machines). Same goes for Windows CE and other mobile platforms – which is really a must to sway people away from Flash.
  • Full Key Focus/Handling behavior (and x 2 for full screen mode) – so Remote Controls + 10 foot can be properly supported too.
  • Support for more Video codecs + IPTV protocols (SL 1.0 was WMV only). Moving forward – for any video playback technology to be treated seriously – support for codecs like H264, MPEG2/MPEG4 is an absolute must (DVR-MS, Divx/XVid etc would be nice too). I think Flash can do all (or some of) this already.
  • Protection of IP (thats NOT just DRM on Video/Audio). Hopefully there’s some serious thought given to how BOTH developers and content owners can protect their assets when deploying them via Silverlight 2.0 (as obfuscators etc are somewhat less useful the smaller the codebase). Silverlight 1.0 didn’t offer any form of protection whatsoever (except for dynamic XAML being generated by a back-end server) – so developers were essentially serving up their IP on a silver platter (to anyone who wanted to take a look).

 

Why I (personally) am excited about what I see coming with 2.0…

While it’s still early days – the really great thing about Silverlight is that it’s a sign the team (and thinking) behind it are :

  • Adapting : Moving forward and adding the features that the market wants..  (In a very short time frame / release cycle as well..). We don’t need to ‘wait until Windows 7’ etc etc to get the new goodies.
  • Doing (not just ‘listening’) : v1.1 wasn’t going to win them too many new friends – so they took a good look at themselves, canned 1.1 – and focused on 2.0 which incorporated a what a lot of developers were asking for.
  • Talking + Showing : Even though the BETA hasn’t been launched yet (if you exclude SL 1.1 Beta – which has been around for 12 months now) – guys like Scott Guthrie are out there telling the market what’s to come – and there’s that element of transparency going on all the way with Silverlight (by screenshots and feature lists being detailed before it’s even available to developers).

 

And the winner will be..(not the public just yet) ?

So – it’s going to be an interesting time over the next couple of years in the world of Web 2.0/3.0/RIA/IPTV etc.  Microsoft are currently really suffering from the ‘self inflicted’ fragmentation caused by offering a lot of different developer platforms to the public – Silverlight for the Web, WPF + WinForms for desktops, CF.NET + XHTML for Mobiles, XNA for XBox360 + Zune, MCPL for MediaCenter – and the list goes on and on (and most of these are reliant on Windows being used for the development and proprietary devices/platforms being used for the runtime).

There’s simply no unifying technology (other than .NET) in the Microsoft camp just yet – so makes it quite a poor value proposition for companies who want to invest in this new world. (and want some reuse across platforms with their investment)

In this respect – companies like Adobe and Apple are clearly winning – and via their ‘lack of options’ on offer – they are making the choices a lot simpler and clearer for both companies and consumers.

Hopefully technologies like Silverlight 2 (which are more developer friendly) can make it’s mark and get some inroads on Flash. (and it’s looking like the best bet so far out of all the Microsoft technologies on offer). All we need now is a release date for the full version (which is the real date when it can start to make this traction).

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Written by mobilewares

February 29, 2008 at 11:56 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Scott Guthrie’s blog is probably the best developer blog I’ve ever read. Great tutorials, always keeping us up to date, always ready to answer questions. It’s a real shame that even though he’s involved with so many different projects, that Media Center isn’t one of them. They need someone like him on the Media Center team. Big kudos to ScottGu.

    Magnus

    March 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

  2. Cheers on the info! If you’re interested in learning more about VS 2008 check out the Heroes Happen Here launch events around the US. It’s free to attend, there’ll be experts on hand to field questions, and you’ll get a free version of Visual Studio 2008.
    ———————————————-Fred RecklingMicrosoft 2008 Joint Launch Teamhttp://www.microsoft.com/2008jointlaunch/

    Unknown

    March 11, 2008 at 10:31 pm


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