Microsoft Unveils Silverlight Beta 2

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Microsoft chairman Bill Gates has unveiled an updated beta release of its Silverlight 2 beta 2 multimedia publishing software at the company?s TechEd conference in Orlando on Tuesday.

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The utility is to be made available for download by the end of this week, and allows developers to rite web-based applications using Microsofts .Net Framework. The company hopes the new beta will lure programmers away from the long-dominating Adobe Flash software suite.

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The company also released two related beta?s to accompany Silverlight: Expression Blend 2.5 Preview and Silverlight Tools beta 2 for Visual Studio 2008.

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“When I think back on the early days of development when we were all programming in DOS, and then take a look at what we can do now with technologies like the .Net Framework, it simply amazes me how far we’ve come,” Gates said during what he called his final keynote address as a full-time Microsoft employee.

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Microsoft may have come a long way, but Adobe is a tough opponent to face when it comes to interactive media. The new Silverlight comes out of the corner swinging though because as well as it .Net support, the new realise will have a dozen added controls, as will as data handling and networking improvements, WPF compatibility and error-handling. “It adds quite a lot,” said self-proclaimed Silverlight geek and Microsoft Senior Program Manager Jesse Liberty.

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“We’ve gone from roughly two dozen to roughly three dozen tools in the toolbox,” he said in an interview. “From a working programmer’s viewpoint, the most noticeable change is in the way templates work and the ease of creating templates,” he said, “[and] the way that Expression Blend and Visual Studio together allow you to take control over the look and feel of objects in your application.”

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Other new additions, according to Liberty, include the addition of scroll bars in text boxes, new cross-domain support, improved support for threading, and the implementation of an XML-based file format for Zoom -something he says will make the program a “much more prominent aspect of building Silverlight applications.” ?

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It all sounds pretty impressive but will it be enough to turn long-time Adobe users over to Microsoft? Liberty seems to think so, “It’s big enough for me to give up 12 very happy years as an independent consultant and join Microsoft to work on it,” he said.

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It doesn?t convince everyone though. Noel Green, creative director of Park East is one of many with no plans to jump ship.

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“I’m not interested in it at all. I feel like it’s a Coke and Pepsi thing, and Pepsi has to do so much more advertising to sell what Coke was already selling,” he said. “Flash just works.”

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Even Liberty is aware that getting Adobe users to switch over to Silverlight will be difficult: “Will they put down their tools, walk away from their desks, and say, ‘Let’s go to Silverlight? I know we have the best developer tools on the planet, [but] we would have to really show a tremendous value proposition to them.”

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The full Silverlight release is expected later this year.

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