Microsoft has made the Silverlight 2 browser plug-in technology for rich internet applications and its supportive development tools publicly available.

Silverlight 2 has "been kind of a unique release", in terms of widespread beta testing and deployment prior to its actual general availability, said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of the Microsoft .Net Developer Edition.

The technology already has been in use by web properties ni the US such as, which streamed more than 70 million videos via Silverlight for this summer's Olympic games, Guthrie said.

"We've have a number of huge customers that went live starting as early as last March," Guthrie said. Additional customers, such as Blockbuster, are signing on this month, he added. The company also revealed plans to have Silverlight capabilities integrated into the open-source Eclipse IDE.

Silverlight 2 is cross-browser and cross-platform. It features a 4.5MB download size and installs in fewer than 10 seconds, Guthrie said. While version 1 of Silverlight was a fairly basic media plug-in for high-definition video, version 2 adds adaptive streaming, Guthrie said.

Also critical to version 2 is inclusion of a cross-platform subset of Microsoft's .Net Framework programming model supporting development in languages ranging from Visual Basic to C#, JavaScript, and Ruby. The framework can be 1,000 times faster than running JavaScript in a browser, Guthrie said.

Silverlight 2 supports a rich programming model, offering capabilities for data grids, calendar controls, sliders, and buttons. Control skinning and templating also are featured. The version 2 networking stack backs web services, Atom endpoints, and sockets. Application capabilities like deep zoom are enabled as well, and AJAX APIs are featured.

Concurrent with the release of Silverlight 2, Microsoft is supporting development of Silverlight applications in Visual Studio 2008, Expression Studio, and the free Visual Web Developer Express Edition. Development capabilities ship with Visual Studio 2. Visual Studio 2005 users will not, however, be able to build applications for Silverlight but can access the Visual Web Developer tool.

To enable Silverlight development in Eclipse, Microsoft is funding a project by Eclipse member Soyatec, which will lead a project to integrate advanced Silverlight development capabilities into the Eclipse IDE. The project is to be offered under the Eclipse Public License Version 1.0 on SourceForge and be submitted as an open Eclipse project.

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Microsoft has made the Silverlight 2 browser plug-in technology for rich internet applications and its supportive development tools publicly available

"I think it's great news that Microsoft is starting to constructively engage with Eclipse and propose projects at Eclipse," said Eclipse executive director Mike Milinkovich. But Microsoft still is not an Eclipse member, he acknowledged.

"I would certainly hope they decide to join at some point," Milinkovich said. Microsoft's linking Eclipse to Silverlight provides a strong endorsement of Eclipse, he said.

Microsoft also will offer Silverlight Control Pack and publish on Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) the technical specification for the Silverlight XAML vocabulary. The Control Pack will be released under the Microsoft Permissive License, an OSI-approved license, Microsoft said.

The XAML vocabulary will be offered under Microsoft's 'open specifications promise' so developers can read and write Silverlight XAML vocabulary tooling, said Brian Goldfarb, director of the Microsoft development platform group.

Asked what future versions of Silverlight might feature, Guthrie said the company feels good about the architecture and programming model of Silverlight and believes it can add new features shortly.

Rival Adobe Systems, whose Flash technology stands to be the biggest competitor to Silverlight, remained undaunted by the release of Silverlight 2. "We didn't really hear much that hasn't already been announced," said Tom Barclay, senior product marketing manager for the Adobe Flash Player. "They seem to be following Adobe's leadership in the RIA space."

Flash is on 98 percent of internet-connected PCs and has 80 percent of theiInternet video market, Barclay said.

Guthrie also reiterated Microsoft plans to bring Silverlight to mobile devices via a port to Symbian devices, done with Nokia, and Nokia's plans to distribute Silverlight with its phones. Also, a Linux version of Silverlight, dubbed 'Moonlight', is being developed by a team of developers led by Miguel de Icaza at Novell, Microsoft officials noted.

Microsoft currently is prohibited from putting Silverlight on the iPhone because Apple does not want browser plug-ins like Silverlight or Flash on the phone, Guthrie said. "Right now, that isn't an option for any vendor. If [Apple lets] us, we'll definitely go," he said.

Silverlight now is working within the Google Chrome browser after resolution of paning issues, he said.

Early users of Silverlight will be automatically upgraded.