Microsoft woos developers under the Silverlight

Microsoft's razors-and-blades Silverlight strategy a would-be Flash-killer.

As Microsoft releases its Silverlight 2.0 media player tomorrow, it is claiming strong momentum for its free, would-be Adobe Flash-killer.

As a result, the software maker is turning to the next phase of its plan: Directly wooing developers and designers to the rich Internet platform.

Microsoft is funding a French open-source project to build tools to enable programmers to use the popular open-source Eclipse framework to write Silverlight applications, said Brian Goldfarb, a director in Microsoft's developer platform division, in an interview last week. This should also let Eclipse programmers share their Silverlight applications with developers working in Microsoft's Visual Studio framework, Goldfarb said. The project is being hosted on SourceForge.

Microsoft is also releasing for free a set of programming templates called the Silverlight Control Pack under its Microsoft permissive license, as well as the technical specification for Silverlight's Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) vocabulary via Microsoft's Open Specification Promise. The latter, said Goldfarb, should make it easier for would-be Silverlight developers.

Microsoft is also letting users of the free Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition write Silverlight applications.

Finally, Goldfarb said the new Silverlight 2.0 player comes with a cut-down version of Microsoft's .Net runtime. That means that .Net developers -- Microsoft says there are 4 million of them -- can build Silverlight applications purely through .Net. Also, Microsoft is enabling Silverlight 2.0 applications to be written with languages such as JavaScript, Ruby and Python, said Goldfarb, in addition to the languages Microsoft usually favors, Visual Basic and C# (C sharp).

All of the moves are part of Microsoft's razors-and-blades strategy: Give away the Silverlight player and lower-end programming tools to attract developers and designers so that they'll eventually pay for higher-end Microsoft tools such as Visual Studio or Expression Studio.

"Just call us Gillette," joked Goldfarb.

Microsoft is turning its attention to developers because it feels it has made strong inroads against Adobe Systems' Flash player in the year since Silverlight's release.

Adobe claims that more than 96 percent of PCs worldwide have the latest Flash Player 9 installed on them.

But propelled by high-profile content deals with partners such as NBCOlympics.com and Silverlight's superior video quality, the player has been downloaded "well more than 200 million" times. As such, Goldfarb said that one in four people worldwide today have access to a computer with Silverlight running on it.

NBC's webcasting of the Beijing Olympics with Silverlight failed to lead to an online advertising monetary bonanza, Goldfarb acknowledged, but it added 9 million new Silverlight users in the U.S. alone, he said.

In the US Microsoft is now working with AOL, BlockBuster, Hard Rock, HSN, Netflix and CBS College Sports to build Web applications based around Silverlight.

CBS webcast all of the games in this year's NCAA men's basketball tournament using Adobe Flash technology. That reportedly brought in US$23 million in online ad revenue, compared to $6 million that NBC made from the Olympics using Silverlight.

But Goldfarb promised that Microsoft would try its best to replace Flash with Silverlight for 2009's March Madness tournament.

Goldfarb also said a private Community Technology Preview (CTP) for Silverlight on Windows Mobile smart phones is being conducted today. He declined to say when a final version of Silverlight for Windows Mobile or other phones would be ready.

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