Wednesday, May 02, 2007

MIX07 - Silverlight Shines

This week was the MIX07 conference for web developers and designers. This is the second time Microsoft has sponsored this event in Las Vegas but my first time attending. Like most developer conferences, there was one main technology or topic that dominated the event and this time around it was Microsoft's introduction of Silverlight.

Silverlight is a cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in that lets developers and designers create much more compelling web experiences than are possible with straight HTML or even AJAX. It includes a smaller version of the .net framework and some of the nice layout, animation and rendering capabilities of the Windows Presentation Framework that shipped with Windows Vista. The fact that Silverlight fits into a download of about 4 megs means that it will be at least as easy for users to install it as it is to install Flash, which is on more than 90% of all client machines these days.

The versions of Silverlight released at MIX07 included a beta of version 1 that is limited to using Javascript to control the runtime and an alpha of the much more interesting 1.1 release that lets developers use any of the .net languages to build and control their Silverlight controls. These languages currently include C#, Visual Basic, Javascript and Iron Python. Microsoft also announced and frequently demoed an upcoming implementation of Ruby running on the .net CLR called Iron Ruby. Very slick!

The thing that struck me most about the event was the message of inclusivity. Silverlight is supported on Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer on MacOS X as well as Windows and it really does work well on each of those platforms. Microsoft also made it clear that Silverlight works just fine when served from Apache or other web servers. I am psyched to see Microsoft not only getting, but actively delivering products that target all users, not just ones on the latest version of Windows!

I spend some time playing around with Silverlight and while there is a bit of a learning curve, particularly for how XAML works and how the classes are layed out, once you start to get the hang of it, there is a lot of great stuff there. I took one of the samples and tweaked it a bunch to turn into a photo viewer that is similar to a desktop photo viewer I created a while ago. You can take a look at it by clicking the button below. If you don't have Silverlight 1.1 alpha yet, the page will come up and show you an image that you can click on to go get it. The install has a few more steps right now than it will have once this version is complete. Apparently that is so people realize that are running an alpha version of the software. Just accept the alpha agreement and it will download and start installing on your Mac or PC. Once that finishes, you can just refresh the window and you'll start seeing some pictures from my recent trip to New York. Click on any of the pictures to show the next one.

Cool stuff!

If the button doesn't work, click this link.

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