A showdown is brewing between two PC-industry heavyweights: Microsoft is preparing to launch its competitor to Adobe's Flash, a cross-platform plug-in called Silverlight. As Silverlight nears its final version, the first apps built on it have begun to emerge. And by the looks of them, Silverlight should allow Web sites to add some high-quality video integration, among other things.
Netflix, Fox Movies, and Major League Baseball are among the first major outfits to hop on board the Silverlight bandwagon, rolling out several new video-heavy services.
MLB.com has launched a Silverlight-based video offering that seamlessly takes over for its older video player when you have Silverlight installed. The player streams high-quality highlight-reel clips with almost no buffering delays.
Netflix has demonstrated a Silverlight-based online movie player with DVD-like controls that it will use to expand its streaming-movie offerings. Using Silverlight allows Netflix to take advantage of its existing library of Windows Media Video while also making its streaming service available to users outside of the Windows world.
FoxMovies.com is working on a similar interactive player for movie trailers. The picture quality we've seen through Fox's Silverlight player was noticeably clearer than other Web-delivered video, with no playback hesitation.
Then there's Skinkers, a London-based Internet technology group that's beta-testing a peer-to-peer live video streaming platform called LiveStation that uses Silverlight to cut down on the time typically required to buffer online video. The P-to-P approach minimizes bandwidth usage and removes the need for costly server farms to stream live TV shows and events. Users can click on the LiveStation viewer and see live content, switching between channels as if multiple live TV streams were available. LiveStation runs outside the browser, letting a viewer simultaneously watch a live feed and browse the Web.
Browsing through Microsoft's Silverlight gallery reveals plenty of less video-centric Silverlight apps. Silverlight Map, for example, is a version of Mindjet's MindManager productivity software. Rapidly emerging is a library of components that developers could use to build full programs, such as a version of Office 2007's ribbon interface and an app called Page Turn that convincingly simulates the turning of pages in a book or magazine.
Whether Silverlight gains much traction against Flash remains to be seen, but the speedy video playback we've witnessed from early Silverlight apps could give everyone a good reason to download yet another browser plug-in. If developers can deliver more programs like Netflix's streaming-movie player, one more plug-in will be a small price to pay.
Adobe readies Flash video on the desktop
As Microsoft tries to move into a category long dominated by Adobe's Flash, Adobe is making its own move into Microsoft's territory.
The Adobe Media Player, which will be available as a free download by the end of the year, will allow you to play Flash movies outside of your browser and manage a library of your favorites, as you would in iTunes or Windows Media Player. It's one of the first programs developed using Apollo, an application framework that permits Web developers to build media-rich Internet software applying technologies such as Flash, PDF, and HTML.
Based on open standards including Really Simple Syndication (RSS) and Synchronized Multimedia Integration Language (SMIL), this cross-platform desktop media player lets users stream, download, manage, and play rich media content. It features full-screen playback, one-click viewer ratings, and a Favorites utility that automatically downloads new episodes of favorite TV shows or video podcasts.