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Media Center, Windows Phone7 + Silverlight Goodness..

Silverlight v3 (Final Release) + Expression 3 (RC) Launched

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This morning Microsoft released the full ‘RTM’ version of Silverlight v3 (which has been in public beta since Mix09 in March this year).

Once again it’s a huge update – with loads of new goodies for Developers and Designers to get excited about – and (even more)  leaps and bounds from Silverlight v2.  (which is only 9 months old).

Some of the major highlights for me of the runtime in this release include (but not limited to) –

  • Built in support for (HD) MPEG-4, H264 Video, AAC audio playback. (previous releases were about pushing WMV – a really bad move – which was getting very outdated as fewer and fewer companies were using this by the day).  Even more promising is that there is now API’s built in for raw bitstream audio/video processing (which can be developed with .NET) – so support for other formats is now a possibility (such as DVR-MS, WTV etc found in Media Center Platform – or Apple Quicktime .MOV etc).
  • OOB (Out of Browser) application support – which as the name suggests – means you can run Silverlight 3 applications outside the internet browser – and make them act/behave like desktop applications.
  • GPU Acceleration – which in turn pimps the graphics and animation engine to whole new levels. Some of the features/outcomes of this are 3d perspective graphics, bitmap and pixel API’s, and ability to use preset and custom pixel shader effects (ie. Blur, Shadows, Glow etc – similar to what we have seen in WPF), and much more fluid animations containing easing support etc.

Please visit Scott Gu’s Blogpost ‘Silverlight 3 Released’ for some more in depth details…

And with Great Technologies – come great developer and designer tools too….

Of equal excitement is the launch of the new ‘Microsoft Expression’ v3 suite which cranks things up a whole new level. Although at this point (Silverlight 3 RTM release day) only the ‘Release Candidate’ versions of these are available – however the full RTM version will be here within the next 30 days. (and available for free to existing MSDN Premium subscribers). NB: The beta versions of Blend 3 (released at Mix09) are rock solid (and not like the old technology previews) – so I’m sure the ‘RC’ version will offer the same usability/stability.

I’ve been playing with Expression Blend 3 (and SL3) beta for past couple of months and it’s a really giant step forward on the Blend v2 / SL2 product. With Blend v2 – Silverlight support always seemed to still be a bit of an afterthought/tack-on to the WPF functionality (and most of the real work needed to be done in VS2008 or notepad) – whereas in Blend v3 it really feels like the product was designed and targeted for those using Silverlight.

Apart from a greatly enhanced UI/designer – v3 of Blend now (finally) introduces proper intellisense support – not just for the XAML editing – but also allows you to develop .NET code in there as well (again with full intellisense to rival VS2008). For the first time since the Expression products were launched – it’s now really possibly to use Blend as a serious standalone development (with source control) and design tool to take your Silverlight projects from concept through to full release – without requiring Visual Studio.  I have been crying out for features like intellisense since the v1 Expression products were released (and received some very puzzled and blank looks from some MS DPE’s for suggesting this in the past) – so it’s really nice to see this come about.

If you want to download and start playing with Silverlight v3 – you can get the VS 2008 Tools for Silverlight  (includes SL3 dev runtime/sdk etc) – as well as the Silverlight Toolkit (which contains lots of free/open source controls for Silverlight).

You can also download the Expression Blend 3 (with ‘Sketchflow’) Release Candidate version from here.

Now that Microsoft have taken Silverlight 3 to these new levels of coolness (and usefulness) – both as a desktop centric ‘web/browser’ technology – but also a serious contender for creating LOB (Line of Business) applications – I really hope that both the MS marketing machine and other dept’s within Microsoft follow suit.

The penetration of Silverlight 1/2 (vs Flash and other tech’s) is still extremely low out in the real world – and although it’s been used for a few high profile sites (Olympics, Sporting Events, MJ Funeral etc) – it’s still pretty rare to see Silverlight being used seriously other than to ‘showcase’ the technology (for the ‘sake of using Silverlight’). Only recently have Microsoft themselves even started using it for their own online assets (but still use Flash in so many other places).

I think this is the big challenge now for Microsoft – as awesome as the technology is – it still needs to be a viable and palatable option for companies – which can only come about from better cross platform support and more end user/developer and designer education of what it actually is (and why it should be used).

Too often I hear it being promoted just as a ‘Video Playback’ Technology or a tool for viewing ‘Deep Zoom’ photos  (and more recently its being promoted as an ‘interactive advertising solution’) – and when it’s (mis)-represented as only doing these things – I still get the impression that the general public are thinking ‘big deal – doesn’t flash do this already – who cares about Microsofts me-too product’.  Silverlight is just so much more than this – such as solving real world development/design and deployment problems in IT – and leverages the skill-sets and knowledge already present in the huge pool of .NET developers out there (and this is one of the areas where it offers huge ROI and value for customers).

Microsoft’s other departments also need to wake up and start seriously making the ‘cross-platform’ and ‘mass adoption’ dream of Silverlight a reality. Today – you can use Silverlight on Windows/Mac (mainly as a ‘desktop’/2 foot browser plugin) and  Linux (via ‘Moonlight’) – but it really needs to be adopted in their own other platforms – namely Windows Mobile, XBox360 (as technology for creating products – not just interactive advertising), Media Center (dump MCPL already please since you’ve stopped developing it) and Zune – just to name a few. While their own platforms (such as these) are being ignored by Microsoft – it’s not too encouraging for any other o/s makers and sets a really bad example.

At the same time  … it really needs to be taken to other popular emerging platforms – such as the iPhone, Android O/S, Symbian/Series XX , upcoming ‘netbook’ related o/s – and STB’s/netbox’s and other Media platforms (such as DLNA enabled devices) for it to be a serious contender. Microsoft’s touch/go adoption of ‘hey we used Silverlight to do this’ <insert high profile media broadcast site here> – but at same time we didn’t feel it was appropriate for <platform/product x> is still sending out a very confusing message to would be adopters. 

I appreciate Silverlight v1 and even v2 had it’s limitations (namely lack of codec support) – and wasn’t ‘quite ready’ to achieve the above – but now with v3 – all the pieces of the puzzle are there – and it’s time to start getting this great technology to reach it’s full potential (and make it worthwhile for developers/designers and business to make the investment).

Microsoft have never had a problem producing great products and technologies in the past – but getting them out there has been a much larger hurdle for them of late. I really hope it flies – and that they can leverage the ‘refreshingly positive buzz’ around Windows 7 to get people’s attention.


Written by mobilewares

July 11, 2009 at 1:11 am

Posted in Silverlight

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