Microsoft’s Silverlight Helps Developers and Designers Light Up the Web for Customers
Microsoft has a long history of focusing on the needs of developers — enabling them to be successful regardless of the size of their team, the size of their organization or even their personal development preferences.
Microsoft’s courtship with designers, however, is a much newer affair spanning the past few years. Yet that relationship has already started yielding notable successes, including Microsoft Expression Studio, a line of tools targeting the needs of professional designers and helping them better integrate into the software development process.
Today, Microsoft’s relationship with both developers and designers took another step forward. At MIX 2007 — Microsoft’s conference for Web designers, developers and decision-makers who make their living at the forefront of the Web — the company announced the official release of Microsoft Expression Studio and offered new details about Microsoft Silverlight and what it offers developers and designers as part of the proven and widely used .NET platform.
Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform implementation of .NET for delivering the next generation of media experiences and Rich Interactive Applications (RIAs) for the Web. Microsoft unveiled Silverlight at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) Conference 2007 earlier this month and announced an impressive line-up of industry partners, including Akamai Technologies Inc., Brightcove Inc., Eyeblaster Inc., Limelight Networks, Major League Baseball and Netflix Inc. For more details about Silverlight and what it offers designers, developers and others, PressPass spoke with Forest Key, director of product management at Microsoft.
PressPass: Microsoft recently announced Silverlight at NAB. What are you announcing at MIX?
Key: When we announced Silverlight at NAB, we focused on how it provides higher quality experiences with lower costs for media delivery for organizations such as Akamai, the Beijing Organising Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad and others. As part of this, we highlighted how Silverlight uses Windows Media Video, Microsoft’s implementation of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers VC-1 video standard. This enables immediate compatibility with the millions of hours of content already available on the Web and adds support for interactive video experiences that scale from full-screen high-definition to browser and mobile scenarios.
But Silverlight is about far more than video. At MIX, we are showcasing how Silverlight enables designers and developers to utilize existing skills, assets, tools and infrastructure to build applications in the emerging media experiences and RIA category of applications. The combination of Microsoft Silverlight and the other new platform and tooling enhancements we are announcing today – such as dynamic languages support, enhanced functionality for ASP.NET AJAX and Microsoft Silverlight Streaming – are great news for developers and designers in terms of ensuring productivity and collaboration. They also make the .NET Framework unequaled for building and delivering applications for the Web, Windows, Macintosh and devices.
PressPass: What do you mean by next-generation media experiences and rich interactive applications?
Key: Ovum, a well known analyst firm in the U.K., defines Rich Interactive Applications as applications that combine the light touch and ubiquity of a Web application with the interactivity and functionality of a desktop app. They offer a consistent and effective user experience, across a variety of devices and networks.
More and more organizations are seeking to deliver these types of applications, but the complexity and cost of building and delivering them has traditionally put them far out of reach. This is precisely what we are addressing with Silverlight – in fact, leading design firms such as Avenue A | Razorfish and Metaliq are already showcasing some truly stunning examples of what’s possible with Silverlight.
PressPass: Aren’t there already technologies that enable this?
Key: To some extent, but we see three primary areas of differentiation. From a consumer perspective, it is all about creating better, higher quality experiences – the tools and technology to get you there are largely irrelevant. Silverlight will enable higher quality and better applications in the browser.
For business decision makers and content owners, though, it is all about cost, quality and control. Silverlight takes advantage of the huge Windows Media ecosystem that already exists and can deliver video that spans from the Web to devices – from low-bandwidth experiences to HD – embedded to full-screen. No one else can deliver this today. It also offers deep access to rich infrastructure technologies like ASP.NET, IIS7 and Windows Streaming Media Services which significantly reduces costs and simplifies management of infrastructure – in fact, partners have told us the cost is up to 50 percent less than other solutions.
PressPass: Microsoft also announced the release to manufacturing of Expression Studio today. What is the connection to Silverlight?
Key: Microsoft Expression provides an end-to-end tools platform for teams of creative designers that boosts collaboration with developers in the delivery of next-generation user experiences for Windows, the Web and beyond. Industry response to Expression Studio has been very encouraging — we’ve already seen hundreds of thousands of CTP and trial downloads— so we are very pleased to announce the official release today. This is also very important in terms of our vision for Silverlight, since Expression, along with Visual Studio, is part of the integrated toolset that will help designers and developers build Silverlight applications. In addition to announcing the availability of Expression at MIX, we are giving a first look at future tooling, including Expression Blend 2 May Preview and Silverlight Tools Alpha for Visual Studio “Orcas” Beta 1. Together, these give developers and designers access to tools to begin building Silverlight applications.
PressPass: How does Microsoft Silverlight Streaming play into this?
Key: Microsoft Silverlight Streaming is a companion service for Silverlight that enables designers, developers, and content owners to deliver cross-browser, cross-platform media experiences and RIAs on the Web. All people have to do is upload Silverlight applications, including videos, photos, etc., to the Silverlight Streaming service, which then stores it on Microsoft servers, replicates it across our global delivery network and manages the delivery to Web sites. There are a number of different scenarios for this, including a basic package that features video hosting and distribution at no charge, DVD quality video streaming, and simple tools and APIs that make it easy to integrate media and share it anywhere on the Web. This ranges all the way up to a premium package that includes more professional tools and APIs, and integrated rights management and reporting. This is a really good example of how we are bringing together the best of software with the best of the Internet to deliver service-centric experiences that are personalized, integrated and available nearly anywhere.
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