Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

Summary: At its Silverlight Firestarter event on December 2, Microsoft officials shared the list of planned features and timing for Silverlight 5, the next version of the company's cross-platform runtime and development platform.


Microsoft's strategy with Silverlight may have shifted, but the Silverlight development platform is still alive and kicking.

That's Microsoft's intended message, which officials plan to communicate during the kick-off of the company's Silverlight Firestarter event on December 2. During today's day-long update on Silverlight, Microsoft officials plan to share the list of forthcoming features and roadmap for Silverlight 5, the next version of the company's cross-platform runtime and development platform.

In advance of the event, Microsoft execs said a public beta of Silverlight 5 is slated to be released in the second calendar quarter of 2011, with the final release-to-Web expected before the end of calendar 2011.

At Firestarter, Microsoft and partner Telerik also plan to unveil the final version of the Silverlight client for Facebook application at the event. Microsoft showed off earlier this year a beta of that application, previously known as Microsoft Silverlight Client for Facebook. Microsoft announced today that Telerik is taking over the development and maintenance of that free application, which is being renamed "Telerik Silverbook.f!acedeck." Telerik's app is powered by Silverlight 4.

Microsoft officials said there are more than 40 new features in Silverlight 5, which deliver 70 percent of the Silverlight user community's new-feature requests. The bulk of the coming features are focused around making Silverlight a development platform for rich media and business applications.

Microsoft execs didn't highlight any new mobile-development-focused or new cross-platform runtime promises for the Silverlight 5 platform (at least not prior to the Firestarter event itself). As Microsoft officials said this fall, the  company's cross-platform runtime play is morphing, with HTML5 being the new way the Redmondians plan to tackle the cross-platform challenge, going forward.

Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond, who also was prebriefed about Microsoft's Silverlight announcements today, said the tooling improvements coming with Silverlight 5 were notable.

"When you’re trying to build enterprise apps tool quality and depth matters a lot," said Hammond. "The new coded UI tests and the improved debugger are both going to very helpful for devs that are building data bound Web apps (is there really any other kind in IT)?  It would be nice to see tools even close to the same caliber for HTML 5, but I’m not aware of any out there yet."

In addition to tooling updates, Silverlight 5 will add improved media support and richer user-interface capabilities on the premium media experiences front, according to the company.

On the rich media front, version 5 will add:

  • Hardware Decode and presentation of H.264 improve performance for lower-power devices to render high-definition video using GPU support
  • "TrickPlay," which allows video to be played at different speeds and supports fast-forward and rewind
  • Remote-control support allows users to control media playback
  • Digital rights management advancements allow seamless switching between DRM media sources

On the enterprise app-development front -- an area of increasing emphasis for Microsoft with Silverlight -- Microsoft officials said Silverlight 5 will add:

  • Fluid user interface to enable smoother animation within the UI
  • Support for Postscript vector printing
  • Reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking

Silverlight 5 also will include general performance and graphics enhancements, according to officials, including:

  • Reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking
  • XAML parser improvements that speed up startup and runtime performance
  • Support for 64-bit operating systems
  • Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) accelerated 3-D application programming interface (API) to provide rich graphics on the Web for building advanced data visualizations and rich user experience (UI)
  • Immediate mode graphics API allows direct rendering to the GPU
  • Hardware acceleration via windowless mode with Internet Explorer 9

More information on the planned Silverlight 5 feature set is available on the Microsoft Silverlight site.

What do you think, Silverlight developers in the audience? What are you looking forward to in the new release? What's still missing?

Topics: Software Development, Microsoft, Security


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

    Hardware decode of videos! Finally!
    • 64-bit Silverlight to power Win Mobile 8?

      That's great. hoho. That might really open the door for a SilverLight Tablet.
  • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

    I was going to mention 64-bit but nevermind. Plus they mentioned something about adding breakpoints in XAML code in SL5.
  • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

    I haven't watched the entire briefing yet, but I was hoping to hear something about being able to bring Silverlight based data applications (rather than media streaming) to Xbox via a Marketplace shared with Windows Phone.
    • Silverlight and Xbox

      Hi... I believe all we know about MS' plans to bring SL to Xbox revolve around a job posting. To me, that means this is not something happening in the near term (SL 5 timeframe). Maybe SL 6? MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

        @Mary Jo Foley
        Silverlight has been on the XBox360 for a long time.
        I remember reading somewhere else that it's based on SL3... the same as WP7 and certain versions of embedded.

        It's just not directly available to the developer community. Perhaps it's an announcement being saved for MIX11.
  • Could anyone please explain the pros and cons of Silverlight vs HMTL5

    I'm not a professional programmer but I am curious. Could anyone, in a NUTSHELL, briefly describe the pros and cons of coding in Sliverlight vs HMTL5?

    My curiosity stems from the observation that Sliverlight seems to have quite a bit "going for it" and I was wondering what prompted Microsoft to shift their coding direction towards HMTL5.

    By the way, there is no "hidden agenda" in my questions. I was just curious. Thanks.
    • Same here

      @kenosha7777 <br><br>I don't know what the hell is HTML5. Only thing I (and everyone else, I think,) know is in HTML5 you can put tag "video", it will play video for you. Then your browser no longer require Flash or Silverlight to do that. Anyone know what else significant in HTML5?<br><br>However, Silverlight is not just a media player! I don't see many developer writting media player application in Silverlight. Most of work I see is line of bussiness application that doing things like desktop applicaton does. On that matter, is there anything in HTML5 that makes it easier? I don't think so, because not matter you do HTML1 or 2 or 5, it relies Javascript to do the logic. That's essentially telling developer to go back to Javascript! That has nothing to do with HTML5, or 6 or 8, or 100!<br><br>I had never heard one person who really understand this.
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set


        I gotcha dude. Silverlight makes a great development UI for line of business apps too!
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

        HTML5 is a collection of implementation specifications. There are a number of improvements over HTML4 in these specifications, including many that compete with some of the multimedia features of Silverlight and Flash. There are no performance benchmarks/goals to be considered an HTML5 compliant browser, nor do you have to implement the full specification. In other words, a browser can implement the video tag, and nothing else.. and still be considered an HTML5 browser.

        These two key points are why Silverlight and Flash are so compelling. With a plug-in such as these, if the feature set is limiting, it's going to be at the platform level itself. Contrast that to HTML5, where you have to check within your javascript code through a series of tests to see if the HTML5 feature you want to utilize is available from browser to browser. Features not available either have to be emulated through the HTML4 feature-set, or you have to simply say your app is not compatible with the browser. And if the feature IS available, how it will perform will differ depending upon the platform/browser combination as well.

        HTML5 has a specification for something called a Canvas tag. It's purpose and output is similar to the element of the same name in Silverlight's XAML.

        IE9 provides hardware acceleration against this tag which offers a performance experience similar to that of Silverlight's. But again, this is IE9. Firefox and Chrome will offer a similar, but not quite as fast experience (as of today). Silverlight and Flash in all 3 browsers will perform consistently, and has all of the features available.

        Javascript is the official language of HTML5. It's basically the HTML5 equivalent to the C# code-behind in a Silverlight xaml page. Syntax preferences aside, most of the nuances with Javascript of yesterday do not really apply today. Most browsers will now compile it during execution (much like Silverlight's binaries compile to native code at runtime)

        C# has gotten more javascript-like in recent releases. Particularly with the "var" keyword. Javascript is still not type-safe, and therefore for some, prone a bit more to errors that would be caught at parsing with a type safe language like C#.

        So depending upon what turned you off from javascript, your complaint might not even be relevant today. But regardless, you will have to use it (or a tool like Script#) to code HTML5 pages.
    • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set


      HTML5 generally refers to a whole family of standardization efforts to update and standardize a number of technologies which include HTML, CSS, Javascript, SVG and a whole raft of other web related technologies. For a great overview of what HTML 5 actually is and where we are in the standardization process I encourage you to watch this video:

      Silverlight, on the other hand, is a technology developed by Microsoft which, at first glance, offers a number of features that are very similar to HTML, but also includes a number of important features that HTML (and the associated family of protocols and standards) do not and cannot support.

      Silverlight's benfits include (but are not limited to):
      * Silverlight apps render the same on XP, Vista, Win7, OSX without having to resort to the tricks you have to employ sometimes when building HTML sites
      * Silverlight is the app platform for Windows Phone
      * Silverlight apps enjoy close integration with the client OS - particularly Windows & Windows Phone which means that ...
      * ... Silverlight apps can access webcams and other hardware on the client machine
      * Silverlight 5 apps will also be able to call any Windows API so that you can write VERY rich and powerful apps.
      * Silverlight is VERY VERY fast. WAY faster than even the best Javascript. This is because Silverlight apps are essentially .NET applications and thus execute as raw machine code, not as interpreted scripts
      * Silverlight 5 introduces the ability to render and animate 3D models.
      * Silverlight also includes very high performance, very high quality video rendering and integrates with Microsoft's powerful video streaming services that were used to stream the last Olympics (and many other sporting events like NBC's Monday Night football) world-wide.

      Now, come may shout and scream that Silverlight should be banned and that Microsoft should be shut down - ignore them - they're noise.

      HTML5 is a TRULY great thing - all the browser vendors are working (and in fact are required) to fully implement all of the required standards to the letter of the spec. This will result in your HTML code rendering practically identically on every browser. Period.

      HTML5 is absolutely essential and will finally free developers from having to spend HUGE amounts of time tweaking their sites to look right regardless of which browser is used.

      But HTML is an open standard technology, not based or tied to on any particular platform. HTML apps should never require a particular OS or specific client OS feature. As such, HTML apps will never be able to take full advantage of, nor integrate fully with the client machine's capability.

      This is where technologies like Silverlight come in: If you need an app that will work everywhere with moderate levels of performance and sophistication, then use HTML.

      If, on the other hand, you want to build REALLY heavy-duty code, or apps that are deeply integrated into the client's OS, then Silverlight is a better choice.
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set


        Thank you.
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

        @bitcrazed thanks. v nice summary.
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

        @bitcrazed I'm currently coding games in Flash AS3.0. Do you have any opinions/experience as to how Silverlight compares to Flash in the same aspect? By that, I mean how does it fare with fully interactive entertainment software?

        I'm curious as Adobe seem to be leaving CS3 behind, and I can't justify the upgrade cost to CS5. However, if Silverlight is a viable alternative, then I might just switch to XNA and Silverlight instead,
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set


        Oops.. I replied to an earlier post here and managed to duplicate your efforts.

        One thing should be noted though.. Some browsers now compile their javascript code to native code similarly to how .Net compiles CIL to native code.
    • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

      @kenosha7777,<br><br>There is a trade-off between rich and reach when it comes to RIA type of programming. Silverlight has more UI capabilities than HTML5. Probably, if Microsoft continues to invest in Silverlight, it will continue to be able to provide a more rich UI. That is because Silverlight isn't burdened with having to garner consensus in W3C. However, its blessing is also a curse. Without the standards consensus that HTML5 has in W3C, it's not likely to have the cross platform compatibility that HTML5 has. Thus, HTML5 will have more reach. Both technologies are a vast improvement over traditional HTML (even with AJAX). It's nice to have choices. <img border="0" src="" alt="happy">
      • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set


        A great way to look at it is that Silverlight and Flash blaze a trail while standards like HTML 5 pave the trail already traveled.
  • You mean &quot;SilverBlight&quot;

    because its a blight to the internet. twice as slow as flash, less capabilitys and NO ONE USES IT!.
    Its a POS
    Ron Bergundy
    • Go home, look at your self in the mirror, and see

      How stupid you are!
    • RE: Microsoft takes the wraps off Silverlight 5's planned feature set

      It's actually used by quite a lot of businesses. My company decided recently to start using it to replace out old website, and I just noticed a couple days ago that Netflix uses it. Seems pretty quick to me. I've never had any problems with it. And I don't know about the less capability than Flash thing, I don't have too much experience in that area, but I will say that programming for Silverlight is much, much less of a pain than writing Action Script. Visual Studio is very nice in that regard.