Microsoft Silverlight to back Ruby, Python in browser

Company looks to make these dynamic languages work on the client side

Microsoft plans to enable the Python and Ruby languages to be used for client-side development of rich Internet applications that leverage the company's Silverlight browser plug-in technology.

The intent is to let developers continue using these languages on the client side without having to also incorporate JavaScript. While use of JavaScript for Web development has been called AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), Microsoft is referring to its planned capabilities as APAX and ARAX, with Python and Ruby replacing JavaScript in these new acronyms.

"The difference between AJAX, ARAX, and APAX is the language, if you will," said Brian Goldfarb, group manager for Microsoft's developer division, in an interview on Friday afternoon..

Today, it is common for developers to use JavaScript in the browser. But with Microsoft's planned release of Silverlight 2 later this year, developers could begin using Python and Ruby on the client as well. Ruby and Python already are being used for server-side development.

"What we’ve done through Silverlight is to make it possible to use Ruby or Python as an alternative to JavaScript for building the same types of applications," said Goldfarb. Developers could write code for Silverlight that is executed in the browser.

"All the browser needs to have is Silverlight installed and then developers can take advantage of these languages," on the client, he said. Silverlight provides rich experiences with capabilities like video and graphics, Goldfarb said. It is viewed as rival to the Adobe Flash platform.

With Ruby, for example, developers would no longer have to use Ruby utilities to convert Ruby code to JavaScript. This would make the application easier to maintain, debug, and share, said Goldfarb. He also noted that Microsoft is building its own Python and Ruby implementations for Microsoft's .Net platform, called IronPython and IronRuby.

Capabilities enabled for Ruby and Python possibly could be extended to Perl and PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor). Microsoft is in discussions with the PHP and Perl communities to gauge their interest in building this support, said Goldfarb.

In addition to backing JavaScript, Silverlight already supports development using C# and Visual Basic.

In another move related to application development, Microsoft late last month released a third preview of ASP.Net MVC (Model View Controller). This software supports building ASP.Net Web applications using MVC.

With MVC, there are models serving as components of an application that maintain state as well as views, which are components for displaying a user interface. The controller portion of MVC handles end-user interaction to manipulate the model and choose a view to display the UI.

The general release of ASP.Net MVC is planned for later in 2008, Goldfarb said. "MVC is a common and popular programming pattern that developers have used for a long time and we've seen a lot of interest in making it possible to take advantage of this pattern," to gain benefits like testing and agile programming, he said.

The preview is available at Microsoft's CodePlex Web site for open-source projects. ASP.Net MVC can work with tools such as Microsoft's Visual Studio 2008 and Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition or Notepad.

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