LAS VEGAS — Microsoft executives took turns extolling the virtues of Silverlight 4, the soon-to-be-released and now open source Microsoft update of its multimedia Web development platform, during the opening keynote address here at Microsoft’s MIX10 developer conference.
The goal was to dazzle would-be Windows Phone customers and simultaneously light a fire under the thousands of Silverlight developers looking to write new apps for Microsoft’s smartphone offerings.
In an increasingly competitive and cut-throat smartphone market dominated by Apple’s iPhone, RIM’s BlackBerry and the certain emergence of Google’s Android OS-based devices, Microsoft is taking its best crack with developer tools and applications designed to engage users and help them organize the applications and smartphone features they need and want in the most intuitive and entertaining way possible.
“The first version of Silverlight shipped two years ago,” Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s .NET developer platform, said. “Today, almost 60 percent of all connected Internet devices have installed Silverlight and that deployment rate is accelerating rapidly.”
For developers eager to get a head start, Microsoft on Monday announced that while Silverlight 4 won’t be officially released until next month, an almost-ready-for-primetime “release candidate” version is now available for download. The company released a beta version of Silverlight 4, a competitor to Adobe Systems’ (NASDAQ: ADBE) ubiquitous Flash software, in November.
An Expression Blend 4 preview
In addition to Silverlight 4, Microsoft gave developers their first look at the Expression Blend 4 user interface design tool used to create graphical interfaces for Web and desktop applications using features of both application types. The upgrade will be free for anyone who is already using Expression Blend 3.
During the keynote address, Microsoft provided a series of anecdotal examples of Silverlight in use including how NBC and other networks covering the recently completed Winter Olympics in Vancouver used the applications and tools to provide streaming video, photos, graphics, programming schedule and near instantaneous event replays on the Web.
Another Silverlight convert, eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY), demonstrated an out-of-browser Silverlight application called Simple Lister that lets sellers to take a picture of the product’s bar code with a Webcam and then upload it to eBay to create a picture of the item as well as the fields for filling its condition and other differentiating data.
“It’s simple, fun and engaging,” said Raji Arasu, eBay’s vice president of product development. “We are very excited about getting this app out to the segment of sellers who occasionally list items for sale. It gets people one click away from listing their items.”
Arasu said eBay has launched a new platform called Open eBay, an applications marketplace for developers to build and sell applications to its user community.
Silverlight on Windows Mobile 7? Think panoramic
As for the look and feel of Silverlight 4-based applications on the Windows Phone 7 smartphones, the word of the day is “panoramic.”
Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president for Windows Phone program management group, demonstrated a number of new features Windows Phone disciples can expect including a panoramic user interface that scrolls in either direction horizontally, giving users the ability to see all their important information — e-mail, schedules, social networking updates, etc.– in an intuitive fashion.
“It’s a panoramic experience that’s wider than the screen and uses clipped text,” Belfiore said. “It gives people all the information they need and the features can be customized to each user.”
Among those features is Live Tiles which organizes data groups such as people, e-mail and applications. The People tile, for example, displays the photos of people users interact with most. A simple click on the image gives the user a complete list of new e-mails, updates to social networking sites, work meetings and appointments and multimedia content pertinent to that specific person.
This theme is repeated with Windows Phone “hubs,” Belfiore said, putting the applications that are used for a particular person or group in that field so that, for example, third-party video editing applications are just a click away for user accessing their stored videos.
Guthrie used a portion of his presentation to quickly build a Twitter application for Windows Phone using Silverlight, its newly available (and free to developers) Visual Studio 2010 Express for Windows Phone and a Windows Phone emulator. In less than five minutes, the app was up and running and drew some applause from the several thousand attendees.
“This isn’t Silverlight light,” he said. “This isn’t Silverlight different. This is Silverlight,” he said.
Microsoft also announced its own application marketplace for Windows Phone 7 apps that lets customers test drive the applications before completing their purchases and allows developers to cross-promote their new nuggets of code through deep linking.
Guthrie said it should take most developers less than half an hour to get all the development tools downloaded and running.