MIX 08: Mobile version of Silverlight unveiled

Microsoft Corp. released the beta versions of Silverlight 2.0, Expression Studio 2.0, and Internet Explorer 8 furthering its offerings in the Web technologies space and giving channel partners an opportunity to monetize solutions for customers.

Silverlight is Microsoft’s Rich Internet Application (RIA) development tool, and Expression Studio is its media application design suite. The releases were announced at MIX ‘08, the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s annual conference focusing on Web technologies, held here.

Among the new functionality, RIA application developers and designers have the ability to better monetize their sites, and extend these applications to the mobile space.

Besides providing cost effective ways to deliver a better user experience through video content, with the Silverlight technology Microsoft is “offering better business opportunities for developers to integrate advertising or other monetization models in their sites,” said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice-president of the .NET developer division.

Accelerating Silverlight
The new Silverlight release follows Silverlight 1.0, which currently sees 1.5 million installations per day, said Guthrie – a rate the company expects will further accelerate with the new beta.

In fact, advertising will “be the primary way that you and we monetize the Web”, said Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, to the crowd of developers at the event’s opening keynote. Given that growth in user engagement is what drives advertising, he added, Microsoft’s role in monetizing the Web will be to create an ad platform for the relevant stakeholders.

The acknowledgment that advertising is the “economic engine of the Web,” said Ozzie, is the driver behind Microsoft’s US$44.6 billion bid for online search giant Yahoo Inc. in February.

A partnership was also announced between Microsoft and New York-based Internet advertising company DoubleClick.com to support Silverlight 2.0 for DoubleClick In-Stream, which lets publishers serve, forecast and report on in-stream video ads.

Both companies see a need to support media and publishers with engaging video experiences, said DoubleClick’s vice-president of advertising products, Ari Paparo. “DoubleClick and Microsoft compete on many fronts but at the same time we co-operate,” he said.

Deploying and monitoring ads aside, the new Silverlight has cross-browser and cross-platform capabilities, and lets developers build RIA apps for mobile devices. Guthrie said Microsoft is trying to get Silverlight “installed on as many mobile devices as possible” whether they’re Windows Mobile or some other operating system.

To illustrate that cross-platform belief, Microsoft announced a partnership with mobile handset vendor Nokia Corp. to deliver Silverlight on its S60 model on the Symbian operating system.

The new Silverlight also provides multi-language support, enabling developers to build RIA apps using any .Net language. As well, a WPF User Interface Framework allowing developers to use controls to build sites with more advanced features like layout management and data mining support.

In tandem with the WPF UI Framework, Microsoft has released the code for the controls under an open source license so that the developer community can build their own controls. Also in the area of open source, the company released a testing framework for Silverlight under open source license. Other new Silverlight functionality include robust networking and integrated data support.

Several Canadian customers were on hand to discuss RIA apps built on Silverlight, including Oakville, Ont.-based TheWeatherNetwork.com.

Silverlight’s cross-platform interoperability solved the significant cross-platform access challenge TheWeatherNetwork.com faced with almost two million users across Canada demanding better targeted data access regardless of the platform, said TheWeatherNetwork.com’s manager of online applications, Carrie Lysenko.

Further compounding the issue, she added, is the fact that weather and weather-related data, like traffic, can be tricky content to convey. Also, with Silverlight, the ability to monetize applications through “subtle, not intrusive” advertisements while running the business is crucial given the company is private and “ad-supported.”

Hockey stick growth
Another customer, Advanced Publishing Corp., a provider of digital content for the publishing industry said its users enjoy new interactive features – a “critical component” of the company’s presentation according to Ed Matthews, the Saint John, N.B.-based company’s director of product development and client services.

A third customer, Guelph, Ont.-based eMedia Interactive Inc., which builds a range of Web sites including Hockey.com, said it benefited from the developer-designer workflow, enabling the startup to quickly and cost effectively make improvements to the site, said its chief technology officer, Lance Mohring.

Microsoft’s rival in the RIA space, San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc., last month released the production versions of its Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), a cross-operating system runtime for building RIA apps using Flash, Flex, HTML, and Ajax; and Flex Builder 3, the integrated developer environment for building Flex-based RIA applications.

Like Microsoft’s move into the RIA mobile space, Adobe has also said it wants its AIR runtime to eventually extend to that arena.

In the open source area, Adobe launched two open source projects to its developer community, BlazeDS and Open Flex SDK, with the goal of driving adoption of its RIA platform.

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