Moving forward with next-generation software in two critical realms, Microsoft released Wednesday initial public beta versions of its Silverlight 2 multimedia presentation technology and the Internet Explorer 8 browser.
The company announced the releases at its Mix08 conference in Las Vegas.
Implemented as a plug-in, Silverlight is Microsoft's horse in the industry's race to provide the most eye-catching visual effects; it competes with Adobe's Flash Player and related technologies. Silverlight is cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device, Microsoft said.
Internet Explorer 8, meanwhile, offers capabilities such as improved interoperability and full compliance with the Cascading Style Sheets 2.1 specification. That beta is available at Microsoft's official Internet Explorer 8 page.
With Silverlight 2, Microsoft brought out a host of early adopters, including NBC Sports, which is using Silverlight for upcoming Olympics coverage; Hard Rock International, of Hard Rock Cafe fame; and Cirque du Soleil. Display capabilities both for the Web and mobile devices were highlighted.
NBC Sports plans to use Silverlight to Webcast 2,200 hours of coverage. "You're going to be able to go online and you're going to be able to consume video how you want it, when you want it," said Perkins Miller, senior vice president of NBC Sports and Olympics.
Hard Rock showed a Silverlight application enabling users to zoom in onto pictures of rock memorabilia, while Cirque du Soleil showed a performer-casting intranet application featuring video. In the mobile space, Weatherbug demonstrated a weather information application running on a Nokia phone.
Microsoft's Silverlight impressed Mix08 attendee Chris Pels, president of iDevTech, a consulting firm focused on Microsoft technologies. "I think it really takes the user experience to a different level and especially through the browser," Pels said.
"I was very interested in the mobile device aspect of it, too," he said. Microsoft Silverlight still must prove itself in the marketplace, Pels said.
Among the Silverlight innovations touted by Microsoft is "adaptive streaming," which gauges bandwidth capabilities on the client.
"Basically, it can automatically pick the appropriate bit rate and encoding to use," said Scott Guthrie, general manager in the Microsoft Developer Division. He had recently blogged about many of the capabilities cited at Wednesday's event.
Also featured in Silverlight 2 are SOAP and REST (Representational State Transfer) support and capabilities for cross-domain networks, for calling services on a network. Sockets-level programming for the client is enabled as well.
While the predecessor Silverlight 1 focused on video, Silverlight 2 has emphasized .Net development and transactional functions.