What Silverlight Means For You

If you keep tabs on the world of web 2.0, then you’ll have heard something about Microsoft’s newest offering, Silverlight. Silverlight is an outstanding piece of technical wizardry, with even long time Microsoft critics admitting that it is a very good product. But while the technical people and the application developers may be very happy about it, what does Silverlight mean from the tech-savvy web 2.0 user who isn’t a developer, but simply a user? Right now, not much. However, given time and sustained interest in the new platform, it could mean a lot. Let’s take a look at what might come of Silverlight.

More Variety

When first announced, it sounded like Silverlight was being poised as a direct competitor to Adobe’s popular Flash technology. But the latest announcement (the one that has garnered the most interest) has made it clear that Silverlight is not quite so simple. The Silverlight plugin (which weighs in at a mere 4MB) will contain a version of Microsoft’s .NET Common Language Runtime. The CLR allows programs written in a number of popular languages like JavaScript, C#, Python and Ruby to be run directly in the browser itself. While this gives developers a large choice in how to implement their web apps, it means that users can expect to see a new generation of even richer, more feature packed applications delivered right in the browsers. It also frees users from having to understand what plugins or virtual machines are required for their selected web app and developers no longer have to bother with maintaining a plugin in addition to their web app, Silverlight does the worrying for them.

Speed

One of the major benefits for end users will be the greater responsiveness that Silverlight will allow for Internet based applications. The recent demonstrations have shown than Silverlight can run JavaScript apps many times faster than native browser implementations. No more waiting around for long periods of time for the applications to load before you can start using it. Heavy duty applications like online web suites, image editors or publication tools similar to Yahoo! Pipes will most benefit from the vast speed increase, but some of the improvement will trickle down to even the smallest pieces of JavaScript. Silverlight applications will also be able to access and alter the basic structure (the DOMs) of the web pages that they will use as interfaces. This means that users can expect far richer, more interactive programs where the program will be able to keep track of any changes made and react accordingly.

Better Multimedia

Flash is currently the most popular technology on the market when it comes to developing streaming media via a browser. But Silverlight promises to do all that Flash can do and much more. Silverlight will allow distribution of video at very high quality (720p or high definition) and will also allow native full screen viewing (as opposed to the current alternative of a maximized browser window). What might eventually make Silverlight a better option than Flash are the new web services that Microsoft is building around Silverlight (and currently distributing full of cost). A service called Silverlight already allows users to store their content and Silverlight based web programs on Microsoft’s servers. If Microsoft handles this properly, we might soon see a large number of new multimedia sites springing up offering richer multimedia and data services and overall better usability for the end user.

While Silverlight currently seems more like a developer tool than an end-user must-have, that might change very soon. Silverlight has a lot to offer for developers, especially those who have been struggling for a long time to consolidate disparate technologies like JavaScript, XML and Flash to make robust web products. Of course, Adobe will stand to lose a lot if Silverlight eclipses Flash, but Adobe already has a firm grounding in the market, which it will be trying to consolidate with the growth of rich web 2.0. In the middle of all this will fall the various web-startups who are currently using AJAX alone, but might easily be outclassed if newer start-ups start using Silverlight vigorously.

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Published by

Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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