Microsoft Silverlight takes aim at Adobe Flash

Today, Microsoft released the first public versions of its Silverlight browser plug-in for online applications. Will the technology threaten Adobe's ubiquitous Flash format?

Microsoft Silverlight (Credit: Microsoft)

Today, Microsoft announced the first public versions of its Silverlight application for creating and experiencing rich, interactive applications online. There are two different versions of the cross-browser plug-in: Silverlight 1.0 beta (download for Windows or Mac) and Silverlight 1.1 alpha (download for Windows or Mac).

The big difference between 1.0 beta and 1.1 alpha versions is that the 1.1 alpha allows developers to create Silverlight applications using .NET technologies such as C#. If you don't care much about that new advancement, you probably won't be too excited about some of the sample Silverlight applications that have been created.

To be fair, the downloads of the client only went public today, but the Silverlight gallery of applications is quite slim--eight for the 1.0 beta and seven for the 1.1 alpha, several of which are identical. The two that jumped out at me were the Grand Piano (for 1.0 beta) and Chess (for 1.1 alpha) applications. Grand Piano lets you play a full octave of a virtual piano via keyboard or mouse, and Chess provides a gaming environment with pluggable AI and two gameplay algorithms in both C# and JavaScript.

Grand Piano Silverlight application

The Grand Piano application lets you tickle the ivories with your keyboard.

(Credit: CNET Networks)

Aside from the sample applications in the gallery, there's also a sleek 20th Century Fox movie player built with Silverlight that's currently showing trailers for Fantastic Four, Pathfinder, and Live Free or Die Hard.

One big question about Silverlight is whether or not it will support Linux. Adobe caught a lot of flack from Web developers for being too slow to release a version of Flash 9 for Linux, which essentially forced Web site managers to maintain different content for Linux users. If Silverlight doesn't hit all the major platforms (Windows, Mac, and Linux), it may be difficult for site managers to adopt the technology.

It's obvious that Silverlight is a play by Microsoft to make a dent in the market share for Adobe Flash, which is the undisputed leader in the field of rich Internet applications. Considering that Flash has more than a 10-year head start on Silverlight, the new kid has his work cut out for him.

What's not obvious about Silverlight is whether or not Microsoft will take the same route as Adobe Flex and make any of the code open source. There have been rumors to that effect for months now, but the software giant has definitely not confirmed anything yet.

For further demonstration of the possibilities of Silverlight, check out a video of a prototype Netflix online-movie service in a Webware.com report from Microsoft's Mix 07 conference.

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