Despite fears among some developers that Microsoft's streaming media technology is being phased out, the company Thursday demonstrated new features coming next year in Silverlight 5 that it hopes will put the rumors to rest.
Silverlight 5, which will add 40 new features, is slated to start beta testing in the first half of next year, with final delivery scheduled by the end of 2011, according to Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Developer Division, who spoke at an all day Silverlight developers event on the company's campus.
The event, which was webcast, was clearly meant to convince developers that Microsoft is not going to desert them after spending three years evangelizing Silverlight, said one analyst.
Confusion popped up with developers a little over a month ago, after Server and Tools Division President Bob Muglia told an interviewer that the role of Silverlight in the scheme of things has "shifted."
He later walked his statement back a little, explaining that Microsoft's long-term strategy to use HTML5 in its browsers did not mean an end to Silverlight's importance for sophisticated streaming media applications. In fact, it's the main programming platform for writing Windows Phone 7 apps other than games.
"Microsoft has shipped four major versions of Silverlight in three years, one, Silverlight 4, just recently, and now another version is on the horizon," Ray Valdes, an analyst with Gartner, told InternetNews.com.
Valdes said that, from his viewpoint, it shows Microsoft's level of commitment.
However, Muglia's candor in September, if that's what it was, definitely muddied the waters.
Valdes said he suspected that the faux pas hadn't changed the message but did hurry Microsoft's disclosure of Silverlight 5.
"I think they got the information out earlier than they had wanted," Valdes said. There are good reasons to keep Silverlight going, in fact.
For one thing, despite its use in Internet Explorer 9, which is currently in beta test, HTML5 is still immature and unfinished in some areas, making a mature platform like Silverlight useful for developers.
"I think that, for developers who want to write rich Internet applications, they need something like Silverlight or Flash," Valdes added.
Among the most important new features for developers, in Valdes' opinion, are improved support for 3-dimensional graphics, including hardware acceleration, and better data binding. Also, additions to the graphics application programming interface (API) enable direct rendering to the graphics processing unit.
One new feature enables videos to be played at different speeds while maintaining the pitch of the original sound track. For business application creation, text display has been enhanced to let text flow around other graphical or textual elements. Network latency has been reduced by using a background thread to handle networking functions.
Silverlight 5 will also provide support for 64-bit operating systems, the Microsoft statement said.
Meanwhile, a developer watching the presentations on the webcast, was a little more lukewarm about Microsoft's announcement.
"The new features in Silverlight 5 are evolutionary, not revolutionary. Some productivity features for developers ... the main enabling features are for video streaming (like media remote, etc.) and 3D support (graphics)," the anonymous developer said in a e-mail to InternetNews.com.
The developer, a former Microsoft manager, added that despite Microsoft's promise of a future for Silverlight, longer-term it may not be the safest bet.
"Silverlight is a good rich web client technology, if you are okay with your web app not running on moat devices a couple of years from now," the developer said.