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Silverlight: Microsoft Set to Mix It Up in RIA Delivery

Microsoft MIX '07 offers a glittery, Las Vegas preview of a complete family of tools, frameworks, and services for the design, development, and deployment of media-rich applications.

hile the industry continues to grapple with the meaning behind Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the semantic web, it's nevertheless seeing more tangible technology advancements in frameworks and tools for developing rich Internet applications (RIAs) that exhibit visually robust user experiences and interactive UIs. In the midst of the busy 2007 conference season, recent announcements from the Microsoft MIX '07 and Sun Microsystems' (12th annual) JavaOne 2007 conferences provided developers of web applications with an array of new and upcoming alternatives to consider for their development environments.

The MIX '07 opening keynote featured splashy presentations of Microsoft's latest efforts in web development and rich content delivery, the most noteworthy of which expanded on its recent unveiling of Silverlight—formerly code named Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E). Silverlight is a cross-platform, browser runtime providing a high-quality media experience supporting standards-based codecs that is now available as a 1.0 beta download. The production release will ship later in the summer, and there is mixed speculation as to whether it will rival the Adobe Flash Player technology.

Perhaps even more satisfying to the developer community in attendance at MIX was the announcement that Silverlight 1.1, now available as an alpha download, will include cross-platform support for the .NET Framework Common Language Runtime (CLR). The news certainly got a big round of applause. Microsoft executives touted it as a high-performance runtime of the .NET Framework that will allow developers to write client-side applications in any .NET-supported language.

The extremely quick Silverlight download and install—20 seconds, as demonstrated by Scott Guthrie, general manager within Microsoft's developer division—provides a runtime for Microsoft Windows XP, Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Microsoft Windows Vista, and Apple's Mac OS X 10.4. Plug-ins are available for Microsoft Internet Explorer (6.0 and 7.0), Mozilla Firefox (1.5 and 2.0), and Apple's Safari 2.0. Future builds reportedly will add support for Opera Software's Opera browser and the Microsoft Windows 2000 operating system.

The additional announcement regarding Silverlight's dynamic language runtime (DLR) support was also widely discussed among MIX attendees. The DLR provides a set of shared language services that facilitates development using Python (IronPython), JavaScript, C#, Visual Basic, and Ruby (IronRuby).

In somewhat stark contrast to these MIX announcements, the opening keynote at JavaOne the following week unveiled a new scripting language, JavaFX, that Sun is promoting for building dynamic, interactive user experiences and rich UIs. The new language, still in an alpha phase of development, will reportedly run unmodified on the Java SE platform and will integrate across all platforms. In some ways, Sun's preview announcement of the new scripting language, which doesn't yet have tools support, overshadowed its more advanced developments, including the completion of open sourcing Java through the open JDK for Java SE that includes class libraries, the Java SE Technical Compatibility Kit (JCK), a preview release of the NetBeans 6 IDE, and JavaFX Mobile that provides a complete stack for mobile phones and devices. For more details on the JavaOne announcements, see the article, "JavaFX: Sun's Late Start in RIA Race."

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