Microsoft Silverlight 3 unveiled

Partners using the rich Internet application technology include NBC Sports and Continental Airlines

Seeking an edge in the crowded rich Internet application technology space, Microsoft is officially launching on Friday its Silverlight 3 platform, featuring offline capabilities for running applications outside of a browser and improvements in areas like 3D.

The company also will launch its Expression 3 technology  for application design. Microsoft said that in conjunction with Microsoft's Visual Studio software development platform, Silverlight and Expression offer a collaborative development and design environment. Silverlight and its accompanying software development kit actually were made available earlier this week.

Silverlight, though, must compete with the more established Adobe Flash platform as well as with Sun Microsystems' JavaFX technology. Complicating this field are HTML technologies that could eventually eliminate the need for plugins such as Silverlight, Flash, and JavaFX.

But Microsoft said adoption of Silverlight has accelerated, with more than one in three Internet devices having installed the earlier Silverlight 2 release since its release about nine months ago. Silverlight customers being announced on Friday including the MGM "SGU: Stargate Universe" and Continental Airlines, which plans to use Silverlight in a call center reservation system.

NBC Sports, which has used Silverlight in the 2008 Olympics, is announcing intentions to use Silverlight for online video delivery across its sporting franchises.

"As we look forward to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver as well as other major championships in 2010, we will be using Silverlight as the preferred technology to deliver the best in next-generation online high-definition video experiences," said NBC's Perkins Miller, senior vice president for digital media, in a statement released by Microsoft. NBC has used Silverlight and Microsoft Internet Information Services Smooth Streaming for its "Live and Wimbledon" video presentation.

"Silverlight and Expression fill a clear need in the marketplace for a complete end-to-end solution that makes it easy for development teams to work together effectively from concept to deployment, to create the types of rich interactive experiences today's users expect," said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .Net Developer Platform at Microsoft, in a statement released by the company.

In addition to offline capabilities, Silverlight 3 features 3D and hardware graphics  acceleration. Other features cited have included improved data-binding and additional controls.

Silverlight is a free runtime. Microsoft also is offering its Visual Studio Professional Edition and Expression together for US$999. Included as part of Expression 3 is SketchFlow, for rapid prototyping of applications.

Expression 3, due in 30 days, features the Expression Studio 3 suite, with  tools including Expression Blend, for interactive design and featuring SketchFlow; Expression Web, for Web design and supporting CSS and the soon-to-be-discontinued XHTML standard; Expression Encoder, for video encoding, and Expression Design, for illustration and design.

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Paul Krill

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