Microsoft targets biz apps with Silverlight 4

Software giant releases beta version of technology for rich Web apps, revealing new features it says will make greater impact on enterprise software.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

LOS ANGELES--Microsoft has unveiled the beta version of Silverlight 4, where one of the core development areas focuses on enabling "great business applications", company executives say.

Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president at Microsoft's .NET developer platform, said in his keynote Thursday at the company's Professional Developer Conference here, that Silverlight 4 offers a range of standard controls features that include printing support, a Rich Text editor, access to clipboard, drag-and-drop support, and HTML hosting support.

The Silverlight team has also added new sandbox features, such as the capability to build trusted apps outside of the sandbox. In addition, tooling support for Silverlight in Visual Studio 2010 are now available to developers.

Development work for the beta release also looked at two areas of emphasis: media, and data and networking. New features here include Webcam and microphones, multicast streaming, databinding improvements and Windows Communication Foundation RIA Services, which allow applications to work with any data and server. Silverlight 4 also has localization enhancements that, for example, supports right-to-left text and complex scripts such as Arabic and Thai, Guthrie noted.

Microsoft will also extend official support for Google Chrome browser in Silverlight 4, he added.

Terming the beta release as "major", he noted that Silverlight 4 is twice as fast as its predecessor in terms of code generation performance. It also promises 30 percent faster setup, he said.

The new version, Guthrie added, was built based on feedback from the developer community. Earlier this year, Microsoft invited developers to submit features they would like included in the next Silverlight release and opened up the suggestions for voting. Nine out of the 10 most popular features, accounting for around 70 percent of all recommendations, were incorporated into Silverlight 4.

The new release is expected to ship in the first half of 2010.

According to Guthrie, during the launch of Silverlight 3 in July, the Web development platform was installed on 33 percent of the world's Internet-connected devices. Today, that number has grown to 45 percent and adoption is "accelerating rapidly", he said.

In July, Microsoft's lead for developer and platform evangelism Walid Abu-Hadba, said half of the world's devices connected to the Web would have Silverlight by 2010.

The development platform has over the last few months gained significant traction, he said, noting that sporting entities such as Wimbledon and National Football League, have also chosen it as a platform to deliver content to consumers.

On the enterprise end, Bloomberg has also installed Silverlight on over 300,000 terminals across its organization for "building and deploying mission-critical apps online", according to Microsoft. The news agency's first Silverlight application was a trading app that allows traders to predict the impact of severe weather on gasoline prices.

An eye on enterprise
In an interview with ZDNet Asia, Brian Goldfarb, Microsoft's director of developer platform and tools, reiterated the emphasis on business.

"Silverlight 4 was really deeply focused on bringing together the portfolio of technology required to build any line-of-business applications. Whether it's switch-data access using RIA Services, to file printing support, to many of other advancements around bi-directional [text]...[to] being able to support Asian [characters], right-to-left, multi-byte characters, [we've taken] huge steps there to meet the demands of the worldwide audience," Goldfarb said.

Microsoft has shipped three releases of Silverlight within the last 22 months and will continue the momentum, as "rapidly innovating is critical" to compete against the likes of Flash, Flex and Air, he said, referring to Adobe's products. "Our rapid cycle was getting us to parity and beyond."

Vivian Yeo reported from the Microsoft Professional Developer Conference in Los Angeles, California.

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