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Tuesday, May 1, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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.NET programming tools add sparkle to Silverlight

Seattle Times business reporter

LAS VEGAS — With each new announcement from a major software company, another old distinction between an Internet service and a desktop application seems to crumble.

On Monday, Microsoft sought to erase a barrier that prevents software developers from applying their skills in building desktop applications to a new generation of software that straddles the desktop and the Internet.

To cheers from the crowd of developers here, Microsoft announced its .NET programming tools for making traditional desktop software would soon be available on Silverlight, its forthcoming platform for building complex, interactive video applications that run on the Web.

"The simple concept of the Web is simple no more, for the better. User expectations have risen progressively higher and higher," Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's chief software architect, said at the company's Mix07 conference.

The event includes a broad review and highly technical sessions on writing programs for Internet services and applications.

"Silverlight changes the game by giving you a new choice for developing incredibly sophisticated rich Internet applications in the [programming] language of your choice," Ozzie told developers.

The .NET framework supports more than 30 programming languages and is used by IT departments in 90 percent of Fortune 100 companies, as well as by legions of independent software developers.

The .NET news is one of the biggest announcements to come out of Microsoft's "software plus services" strategy.

This broad effort, headed by Ozzie, seeks to turn the company toward making products that take advantage of both the power of desktop computing, with its graphics processing and memory, and capabilities from the Internet, including access to constantly updated information and communications.

Silverlight, set to be released this summer, will compete with Adobe's Flash player, the dominant vehicle for delivering video on the Web.

YouTube, the popular user-generated video site, is built on the Adobe Flash platform. An Adobe spokesman said 98 percent of Internet-connected computers have Flash installed.

"I think Microsoft is definitely trying to compete with the ecosystem we've built up around Flash and more recently Flex," an environment for building more sophisticated Internet applications, said Phil Costa, director of product management for Adobe's Flex.

"... It remains to be seen whether they are really dedicated to delivering cross-platform software and whether they can actually gain the trust of the users" to get them to install Silverlight on their machines, Costa said..

Silverlight works on platforms from Microsoft competitors such as the Mac and Firefox Web browser.

"That's really important for us to get wide coverage for our user base," Neil Hunt, chief product officer at Netflix, said Monday during an on-stage demonstration.

Hunt demonstrated an application using Silverlight technology that would allow people to browse movies for instant watching online.

The fast-starting Silverlight, he said, lets people watch a little bit of each movie before choosing which one to watch. It can also allow people to invite others to watch an online movie and chat about it via instant messenger.

Chris Swenson, director of software-industry analysis at NPD Group, said video on the Web is becoming increasingly important to businesses as consumers view more video advertising online, post and watch their own videos and look for new ways to consume media. Adobe and Microsoft are the two companies in the best position to provide the tools and platforms that will allow Web video to grow.

"The future of video of delivery is going to be fought between these two companies and a few other players," Swenson said.

And despite Adobe's considerable short-term advantage with Flash, Microsoft brings its own strengths.

"It was important for Microsoft to get in this space, and their advantage is they are the 800-pound gorilla in the [software] development space," Swenson said.

In addition to the integration of .NET with Silverlight, Ozzie announced Silverlight Streaming, a service that would allow developers to store and deliver their Web applications using Microsoft's servers.

It "takes advantage of [Microsoft's] huge investments in services infrastructure," Ozzie said.

One such example is the "server farm" Microsoft recently opened in Quincy, Grant County.

The service, which Ozzie described as "a sign of things to come" from the company's services strategy, would be free for storage of 4 gigabytes of data.

Ozzie said there are other "very significant" infrastructure projects under development at Microsoft that need more time to gestate before being announced more broadly.

Benjamin J. Romano: bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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