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First look: Microsoft Silverlight

Hands-on with Microsoft's Adobe Flash killer

Microsoft yesterday released Silverlight 1.0, its Flash-like rich media browser plug-in for Mac OS and Windows.

Silverlight has previously been available as a beta, and allows you to watch videos or use interactive online applications similar to what you get with Adobe Flash. It's a quick and easy install - if you visit one of the growing number of Silverlight app sites, such as Tafiti.com's search app or Major Leage Baseball's game clips player, you'll see this small image.

Click it to download and run a 1.4MB executable, then restart your browser, and you'll be ready to roll. The plug-in is available for IE7 and Firefox 1.5 and 2 under Vista, for IE6 & 7 and Firefox 1.5 & 2 under XP, and for Firefox 1.5 & 2 and Safari under Mac OS 10.4.8+. Microsoft says a Linux version, to be made in partnership with Novell, is on the way.

The Silverlight home page showcases six sites that use the new plug-in. Tafiti's Live-Search-powered app isn't one of them, but it's a good example of what Silverlight can deliver. You can drag-and-drop different search results into a persistent column of frames on the right. You can label these saved searches, which stick around for successive searches even if you leave the site, close the browser and come back. The app is a little clunky for day-to-day use, but interesting.

If you're in the mood for some real quality content, you can also watch live streaming Home Shopping Network shows or WWE wrestling clips. HSN's large video player looks good and offers a choice of channels. I watched Wolfgang Puck hawk a set of cheap pots and pans on the cooking channel.

On the WWE site, I watched a clip of the 'Bikini Beach Blast Battle Royale'. IE7 seemed to have a hard time keeping up with the not-at-all-scripted bikini action, and pegged my CPU as it ran the small-ish video. Things were fine as soon as I closed the browser window, though.

Basically, Microsoft is making a strong push to get Silverlight out there as a Flash competitor, and you can expect to see more Flash-like video players and other applications from the new plug-in. If you do install it, right-click any Silverlight app or video to bring up a configuration pop-up, where you can choose how the plug-in updates.

The default is to install updates automatically, but I'd change it to check for updates but let you choose whether to download and install them. That way if anything does go wrong with the update, you'll know what happened.

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