Microsoft springs 'Flash killer' with Linux flourish

Hoping to woo three core audiences: content providers, developers and end users

Microsoft as expected shipped its Silverlight 1.0 multimedia browser plug-in Wednesday and added an unexpected spin by saying it would work with Novell to create support on the Linux platform.

Silverlight is a programming model and a runtime browser plug-in to support Web-based applications that use animation, video and other rich media. It is an extension of Microsoft's .Net family of tools and runtime environments and has been described as a competitor to Adobe Flash.

Microsoft is hoping to woo three core audiences with Silverlight: content providers that want to distribute video and rich media over the Web; designers and developers who are building rich interactive applications; and end users who want the best possible experience when viewing Web-based media.

The company has been presenting a variety of slick Silverlight demos the past few months, including one showcasing a Major League Baseball game running in the browser. The interface features a number of user controls, a picture-in-a-picture capability and the ability for real-time communication with other users online.

As part of Wednesday's release, Microsoft also unveiled Silverlight projects run on Web sites from Entertainment Tonight, HSN and World Wrestling Entertainment.

"With Silverlight you can produce quality sites with a level of interaction that before would have been very expensive to produce," says Andrew Whiddett, vice president of interactive technology at design studio IdentityMine and the leader of the project that created the Entertainment Tonight site. The site, which highlights the Emmys, was produced in only 11 days, says Whiddett, including Web-based drag-and-drop capabilities.

"Whether it is an inventory management system application or a sophisticated video application, the end goal is the same: You want to make it easy for people to interact with the site and you want to make it easy to deploy," says Whiddett. And he says more is coming in the next revision of Silverlight, which adds the ability to develop the underpinnings of Web sites as components. That feature will allow for reuse and shorten development time.

Silverlight takes advantage of Windows Vista's new graphics framework, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and Microsoft is integrating Silverlight's capabilities with Internet Information Server 7, which is slated to ship with Windows Server 2008 early next year.

In July, Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, said, "Silverlight is oriented toward the seamless deployment of applications across the Web, the enterprise server, the PC and mobile devices." In essence, Microsoft does not want any platform left out when users want to present multimedia applications over the Web.

Also Wednesday, Microsoft released Expression Encoder 1.0 (formerly Expression Media Encoder), a tool used to encode and publish rich media content to Silverlight.

Silverlight is compatible with a range of browsers, including Internet Explorer, Safari and Firefox. End users will not have to download different video player technology to view online media based on what operating system they are running.

In the deal with Novell, the two vendors are working on delivering Silverlight support for Linux as part of a project called Moonlight. The project is based on the long-running open source Mono Project, now sponsored by Novell. Mono provides software to develop and run .Net client and server applications on Linux, Solaris, Mac, Unix and Windows.

Microsoft has Silverlight partnerships with Akamai Technologies, Brightcove, Eyeblaster, Major League Baseball and Netflix.

Also Wednesday, Microsoft unveiled a Silverlight Partner Initiative, with 35 initial members.

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