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

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.
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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?

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