Silverlight: You’ll probably want it

8:00 am Articles, Ask the Geek

There’s a lot of gobbledy-gook on the Internet. There are new add-ons and plug-ins and toolbars being foisted on you by Web sites here and pop-up windows there. To top it off, you’re always told to be extra cautious about everything you click on, open, download, install or hover your mouse over. (When I write it like that, it almost seems paranoid.)

However, there’s one particular browser plug-in that you may have been wondering about. Maybe you saw it as an optional download on the Windows Update site or stumbled across a Web site that required it. The plug-in is called Silverlight, and it is an emerging technology by none other than Microsoft.

Scott Guthrie is the Corporate Vice President of the Microsoft Developer Division, and is in charge of the development team behind Silverlight. On Oct. 14, the day Silverlight 2.0 was officially released, Guthrie explained in his blog: “Silverlight 2 is a cross-platform browser plug-in that enables rich media experiences and .NET RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) within the browser. Silverlight 2 is small in size (4.6MB) and takes only 4-10 seconds to install on a machine that doesn’t already have it.  It does not require the .NET Framework to be installed on a computer to run – the Silverlight setup download includes everything necessary to play video or run applications.”

For the nongeek: Silverlight is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe Flash. It lets Web pages deliver streaming video and media-rich applications.

Brace yourselves: I’m going to float the geek raft into dangerous political waters for a moment. If everyone will remain perfectly still, I swear we’ll all get through the following example in a mostly nonpartisan way.

I had my first brush with Silverlight 2.0 while it was still in beta, along with thousands of others. As an election junkie, I made sure to tune into both the Republican and Democratic national conventions, at least for the big speeches. What I was less interested in, however, were the babbling pundits.

This year I was bursting with geeky joy to be able to stream the conventions, live, from each of the party’s respective Web sites. The broadcasts were not narrated. There were no captions or news scrawling along the bottom of the screen. Both broadcasts were like getting to sit in the stadium sound booth, plugged right into the stage audio and with spectacular close-up views from the cameras.

Aside from the political mumbo-jumbo, there was one colossal difference between the two conventions: The Democratic National Convention was broadcast using a beta version of Silverlight 2.0. It wasn’t just streaming, it was streaming in high definition, full screen.

It was phenomenal. Truly, watching it in widescreen hi-def, streaming it live over the Internet, it was breathtaking. The last night of the convention, at Invesco Field in Denver, when the cameras panned around the stands, I swear I could count all the individual faces. Not to say there weren’t some jitters and occasional screen artifacts, but holy smoke, by and large it was jaw dropping.

Guthrie’s blog announced that, this month alone, the CBS College Sports Network, AOL, Blockbuster, Major League Baseball (via Yahoo! Japan), Hard Rock International, Toyota, HSN and “hundreds of others” will be launching Silverlight-enabled initiatives.

Ok, fine, so you run off and install Silverlight 2.0. Then what? My advice: Take Silverlight for a test run through the showcase at Microsoft’s official Web site for Silverlight (see links below). See what it can do. It might not be a crucial piece of technology for you now, but I have a feeling it will be before long.


(This article was originally published in the Amarillo Independent newspaper.)

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