IE9, Silverlight 4, Office 2010 in the PDC spotlight

Day two of Microsoft's PDC saw clients take centre stage, with browsers, rich internet applications and productivity tools in the spotlight
Written by Simon Bisson, Contributor and  Mary Branscombe, Contributor

There will be an Internet Explorer 9, and it will be built on top of an enhanced version of Microsoft's Trident HTML rendering engine, Microsoft Windows Division president Steven Sinofsky announced on the second day of Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles.

Other key announcements included the beta of Silverlight 4, and the public availability of the Office 2010 beta.

Microsoft is only three weeks into the IE development cycle, Sinofsky said, so any public release is still some time away. However, in a live demonstration of its standards support, Sinofsky showed an early prototype browser scoring 32/100 on the industry standard Acid 3 test. Performance is also improved, with Microsoft claiming IE9 is only slightly slower that recent builds of Firefox and Chrome on the SunSpider JavaScript benchmark.

IE9 uses Direct X for page rendering rather than GDI, resulting in smoother text and animations, as well as improved frame rates on scrolling maps. This switch to GPU-based rendering also means CPU load is reduced, Sinofsky noted, saying that "the hardware you run on should shine through in the browser".

Also on Wednesday, Scott Guthrie, vice president of Microsoft's .NET Developer Platform, told attendees that Silverlight 4 is intended to be a major release, with enhanced media streaming features, tools for building business applications, and improved out-of-the-browser operations. Describing it as "a fast release cadence", Guthrie announced that the beta is available now, with a community technology preview to follow. Final release is planned for the first half of 2010.

Silverlight will get access to webcams and microphones, and media player development will be simplified using an open Silverlight Media Framework. This will work with IIS Media Services, resulting in a PVR-like desktop media player that anyone can build and customise. Silverlight 4 will also host HTML content using a control that supports media plug-ins — so Flash will run inside Silverlight applications.

Business applications written in Silverlight will become more like ordinary applications, Guthrie said, and will now be able to print, access the Windows clipboard, and use more mouse actions, including context menus. Access is also extended to low-level Windows features such as the Windows Communication Foundation, and Silverlight 4's development tools will work with the upcoming Visual Studio 2010.

Out-of-browser applications can now be installed as trusted apps that run outside the Silverlight sandbox on both Windows and Macintosh, Guthrie said, with trusted applications getting access to the local file system and external devices. iPhone compatible streaming video is also supported, and performance has also been improved, with full access to the .NET JIT compiler. Silverlight applications should start up 30 percent faster and run two times faster, he claimed.

Kurt DelBene, senior vice president of Microsoft's Office Business Productivity Group, unveiled the public betas of Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010, which he described as part of Microsoft's 'three screens and the cloud' vision, "making it come to life for the information worker". SharePoint 2010 includes tools for linking a line of business applications into Office and Silverlight, with developer tools for Visual Studio.

The beta programme includes new versions of the Office applications for Windows Mobile 6.5 devices, available on Windows Marketplace, as well as new versions of Project and Visio.

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