Microsoft Silverlight Lights Up The Web

Yesterday, at their MIX07 conference, Microsoft revealed the full details of Silverlight, an in-browser runtime for delivering rich internet applications (RIAs). Microsoft’s marketing machine is in full effect, and doing a remarkable job. Initial impressions from analysts and developers alike are resoundingly positive.

Indeed, even I, not known for being a Microsoft advocate, am impressed with what has been announced. Microsoft is making a substantial effort to support a variety of platforms, including all popular browsers on both Windows and Mac OS X.

The technical accomplishments behind Silverlight are also astounding. Microsoft has made their Common Language Runtime (CLR), which powers Silverlight, small, fast, and efficient. At the same time, they’ve created a Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR), which facilitates the CLR’s execution of code written in languages such as Python and Ruby.

True to form, Microsoft is touting their goal of building a developer ecosystem around these technologies. All the while, their sights are clearly trained on their competition.

Adobe, with Flash and Flex, is under the heaviest fire. With entrenched design and development tools, Adobe has the leading RIA platform. However, Microsoft is positioning Silverlight as a direct challenger.

With .NET and the CLR, Microsoft has gained traction against Sun and Java, the other major VM. Running dynamic languages on these VMs has recently become a hot topic, and advances similar to those seen in DLR are needed in Java.

Mozilla is the strongest advocate for open standards on the web. Firefox keeps the playing field level, and allows web applications to be written using techniques including Ajax. It remains to be seen how RIA environments will influence the future of the web browser.

Open source is the common strategy held by each of these alternatives to Microsoft platforms. This fosters a community and encourages a healthy evolution of the technology and tools. Microsoft’s competitive threats are welcome, as these will further increase the evolutionary pressures.


Lonna Hanson
May 2, 2007 at 10:06 AM

Exciting, Jared. It was interesting to me how MacOSX is included in Silverlight.

May 2, 2007 at 10:10 AM

I know you mentioned that it is “small, fast, and efficient” — but, I am not sure that does it justice — I read that it is 4 megs — which, just seems out-of-control awesome from what I see from screenshots of the demos.

Of course, now that I am a damn attorney, I am a bit out of the loop regarding these web 2.0 frameworks…… maybe this is the norm…..

Jared Hanson
May 2, 2007 at 3:26 PM

Silverlight is brower-based runtime for executing applications. At the core of that is a virtual machine and base class library. Those two things comprise the bulk of the installer’s size. As with any browser plug-in, it is desirable to keep the size as small as possible, and Microsoft’s engineers have done an unquestionably impressive job.

However, Adobe has previously done what is essentially the same thing. Flash Player 9 ships with a VM, known as Tamarin, and a set of ActionScript libraries. The size of Flash Player 9 is, I believe, smaller than that of the initial Silverlight release.

That doesn’t discount the work Microsoft has done. While I’m no expert on this topic, my initial impression is that the CLR is significantly more advanced than Tamarin. The DLR highlights this, with its ability to simultaneously execute code written in multiple languages.

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