Microsoft will begin shipping the next major release of its media streaming competitor to Adobe Flash on Thursday.
The announcement came during a keynote speech at Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) DevConnections conference in Las Vegas by Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the .NET Developer Platform, Tuesday.
Among the new and upgraded features in Silverlight 4 is additional out-of-browser support so that users do not have to be running a browser in order to use Silverlight's features.
Additionally, as announced at Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles in November -- where the first beta of Silverlight 4 debuted -- the new version supports streaming of high-definition video over hundreds of PCs simultaneously.
Silverlight 4 also adds offline digital rights management (DRM) built on Microsoft's PlayReady technology.
Big speed improvements in the runtime
However, besides new and updated features for developers, Guthrie highlighted a focus on "the fundamentals," including improvements in performance.
For instance, the Silverlight runtime is twice as fast as the one in Silverlight 3, while startup is 30 percent faster than previously.
"You can build the richest possible apps [that are] faster than anything else that's out there," Guthrie told his developer audience.
Perhaps as important, he said the new and upgraded features are included in the new Silverlight 4 runtime.
"All the features ... are built into the core Silverlight runtime so, shortly after we ship, those 60 percent of machines on the Internet that already have Silverlight installed will automatically start upgrading to Silverlight 4," Guthrie said.
What that means for developers is a built in audience for their wares. "You'll have a huge audience base that already has the code installed to run it."
The release comes less than a year after Microsoft delivered Silverlight 3 last July.
Microsoft shipped the release candidate, or RC, of Silverlight 4 at last month's MIX10 Conference in Las Vegas.
When it's released, Silverlight 4 will be available for download here.