What is Microsoft Silverlight? [Geeks Weigh In]

silverlight5   What is Microsoft Silverlight? [Geeks Weigh In]Microsoft is a big frickin company. Although born from the Windows operating system and the success of software such as Microsoft Office, the giant now has its hands in everything from cell phones to game consoles to in-car infotainment systems. Microsoft’s execution of its various goals also varies greatly – Internet Explorer has been bleeding users for years, but the Xbox 360 has become a popular and successful device.

Given the array of Microsoft products and services available, it can become difficult to remember any single service very well. You may have heard recently about Microsoft Silverlight – indeed, its likely because some Microsoft websites and software don’t work correctly without it. What is Microsoft Silverlight, and how does it matter to you?

In The Beginning…

silverlight4   What is Microsoft Silverlight? [Geeks Weigh In]

You may have heard of Microsoft Silverlight as early as 2007. This is when the first version of Silverlight was released. This early version is likely best described as “online presentation software”. Silverlight started as a web application framework that provided a method of building interactivity into online content. Input could be taken from a user’s computer, and appropriate results would happen with in the application. Video, in the form WMA, WMD 7-9 and VC-1 was support, as was MP3 audio.

Is this sounding familiar? It should, because Silverlight from the very beginning had goals similar to Flash. You view Flash content constantly, often times even when you’re not aware of it, but Flash has always been criticized as inefficient and somewhat buggy. Silverlight offers an alternative.

Silverlight Today

Updates to Silverlight have been provided regularly since the original release of Silverlight in 2007.  Each new release of introduced some fairly substantial new features.

Silverlight 2 was perhaps most famous for introducing Deep Zoom, a feature that made it possible to display a series of high-resolution photographs as thumbnails, yet also display extremely high-resolution detailed photos if the user zooms in. There are many good examples of this online, one of which is the Hard Rock Memorabilia website.

silverlight2   What is Microsoft Silverlight? [Geeks Weigh In]

AAC audio support an H.264 video support was added in Silverlight 3, as well as support for 1080p streaming and other media features. This bolstered Silverlight’s already reasonable capability as a media player, making it a good alternative to Flash for streaming video.

The most recent version is Silverlight 4, which was released in April 2010. This version’s most important update was problem the addition of Google Chrome support. It was also made possible to include webcam and microphone input in Silverlight apps.

These are, obviously, not all of the updates made to Silverlight over the years. If you’re an actual developer, and not an end user, the additions to the framework over the last three years have made big changes to what you can achieve. For users, however, the basic result is this – Silverlight is a lot like Flash, but is often quicker and has features (like the Deep Zoom Support) that are difficult or impossible for Flash to replicate.

silverlight1   What is Microsoft Silverlight? [Geeks Weigh In]

However, Silverlight is a relatively new and not entirely understood player on the scene. The situation of Microsoft’s Silverlight is actually rather ironic for the company – in this case, they appear to have a competitive and arguably superior solution, but are being held back by the fact that a competitor (Adobe’s Flash) already has an entire ecosystem of applications and experienced developers surrounding it.

Perhaps the best way to see what Silverlight has to offer, however, is to simply use it. Microsoft’s website offers a showcase the highlights a number of websites, gadgets and tools that make use of this framework. Some are pretty damn cool. Others aren’t.

Compatibility

If there is one thing that Microsoft can offer its projects, it is access to a very large user base. Anyone Windows XP, Vista or 7 can use Silverlight with Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari. Silverlight also works in Safari on Intel-based Apple computers. Windows based smartphones support Silverlight as well.

silverlight3   What is Microsoft Silverlight? [Geeks Weigh In]

All current Windows mobile smartphones and Windows operating systems should already have Silverlight installed. If that’s not the case, however, grabbing it is easy. Installation should take less than a minute.

Conclusion

Now that I’ve explained the basics of Silverlight, it is time for the geeks to weigh in. I think there is a lot of promise here, but the fact remains that Flash is the 800-pound gorilla. It remains in the middle of the ring, ready to take on all challengers. What do you think? Is Silverlight a reasonable alternative to Flash? Or, just as importantly, will both Silverlight and Flash succumb to HTML5?

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30 Comments -

AMAZING WEBSITES AND PROJECTS

Q: “What is Microsoft Silverlight?”

A: “…the next KIN-like product that Microsoft could discontinue soon…”

M.S. Smith

I don’t think that’s fair…the Kin was a total flop, but Silverlight is at least useful even if it is unlikely to succeed.

AMAppZON.com or AMAppSTORE.com

Q: “What is Microsoft Silverlight?”

A: “…the next KIN-like product that Microsoft could discontinue soon…”

Qpease

I just wish Netflix would give it up. I can’t watch Netflix Streaming on Linux and I hate that. I signed a petition and I don’t think it will do any good since 90% of users have Windows and have no intent on using any other system.

Vince

The guy running Netflix is on the board of directors for Microsoft. They’ll give it up soon, though. Microsoft recently put an expiration date of sorts on Silverlight.

Laxman1790

as said before since flash is that 800 pound gorilla the likelihood that silverlight will take over is very unlikely. If it made a comeback that will both be overrun by HTML 5 eventually

fanbaby

Read what S Ballmer said about Silverlight just a few days ago. Basically it’s: HTML5 is the future for x-platform development.

Simon

Why don’t they bake an OS around Silverlight?

Seems to me they could create a pretty bad ass UI where it’s like Expose on crack. “Zoom” into multiple “Desktop Areas” that are just categories……

I’ll stop before I say too much.

Gotta go before I say too much.

Simon

Sorry for the redundancy at the bottom there. Damn phone browser!

Anonymous

I’m in the same boat as Qpease- Netflix w/ Silverlight is, I’m sad to say, probably the best streaming player available, and I desperately miss my Netflix since switching to Linux. Otherwise, I’m pretty neutral on Silverlight in general.

Simon

Why don’t they bake an OS around Silverlight?

Seems to me they could create a pretty bad ass UI where it’s like Expose on crack. “Zoom” into multiple “Desktop Areas” that are just categories……

I’ll stop before I say too much.

Gotta go before I say too much.

Anonymous

Silverlight? Damn I even forgot that existed! Which websites use it? I’ve never encountered one!

Paul G

“Microsoft is a big frickin company. Although born from the Windows operating system…”

Born from the DOS operating system originaly produced for the IBM PC.

Paul G

“Microsoft is a big frickin company. Although born from the Windows operating system…”

Born from the DOS operating system originaly produced for the IBM PC.

Jeremy

The myth is that Silverlight needs to be a flashy ad or part of a media website to be successful, because that’s where everyone sees Flash … not true. Who knows where it will be in the future, but it is very successful now – especially for line of business applications. There are plenty of Fortune 500 companies using it for everything from medical imaging to financial stock tickers. It’s in very high demand and because of how much software has already been written with it, likely to be around for a long, long time.

eMcE

Silverlight? No way!This s**t isn’t Linux compatible.:/

eMcE

Silverlight? No way!
This s**t isn’t Linux compatible.
:/

Aibek

I have seen a bunch of useful desktop/web apps built on Silverlight.Some of them were reviewed on MakeUseOf as well. See http://www.makeuseof.com/tags/

D0nny

Although I think Silverlight offers a really good choice/alternative to Flash, the fact is it just isn’t inclusive. In these days of open standards, new technologies should be developed that work across different platforms, and Silverlight just doesn’t do that.

So, as good as Silverlight is, I personally think new technologies should include every and all users and not exclude users because of their personal choice of platform.
Microsoft are very good at being anti-competitive – fact!
And this is just another example.

D0nny

Although I think Silverlight offers a really good choice/alternative to Flash, the fact is it just isn’t inclusive. In these days of open standards, new technologies should be developed that work across different platforms, and Silverlight just doesn’t do that.

So, as good as Silverlight is, I personally think new technologies should include every and all users and not exclude users because of their personal choice of platform.
Microsoft are very good at being anti-competitive – fact!
And this is just another example.