New Web tool to get .Net shine in second release

Cross-platform .Net will use Silverlight as its runtime environment

Microsoft kicked off its recent Mix 07 conference by announcing that a full cross-platform version of its .Net programming environment will be fused to the second release of Silverlight.

Ray Ozzie, Microsoft’s chief software architect, said during a keynote speech that Silverlight will become “a first-class .Net runtime environment” when version 1.1 of the rich-media presentation technology ships. That will enable developers to juice their Silverlight applications with .Net code — even on non-Windows machines.

“The web has been mostly about DHTML and Ajax,” Ozzie said, referring to Dynamic HTML and Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

“But AJAX has limitations, and there are better languages than JavaScript for the sophisticated applications that developers want to build.”

Microsoft is encouraging developers to create applications for Silverlight with either its new Expression Studio suite of web design tools or Visual Studio, its flagship .Net-based development tool set.

Last week, the company added Silverlight support to the alpha release of the next version of Visual Studio, code-named Orcas.

Microsoft also detailed a technology called Silverlight Streaming that can store video and other rich-media applications and stream them to users via Windows Live Platform, its web services infrastructure.

Under a simplified set of licensing terms for Windows Live, developers can use up to 4GB of storage space for Silverlight applications at no cost. “With some reasonable limitations, it’s on us,” Ozzie said.

Peter O’Kelly, an analyst at Burton Group, says Microsoft’s emerging web design tools offering is finally building to a “crescendo.”

He adds that the Mix 07 announcements clarified what Ozzie has been up to since he was hired by Microsoft two years ago to help champion the company’s adoption of a software-plus-services strategy.

Before now, Microsoft hasn’t always kept up with what other vendors have been doing in the web development market, says Bola Rotibi, an analyst at London-based Ovum. But she says Microsoft’s rapid ramp-up of its web design tools over the past 18 months shows that the company has recognised “there’s no point in sticking your head in the sand about this”.

Combining Microsoft’s background in development tools like Visual Studio with newer rich-media technologies is the most logical strategy for the company as it tries to catch up to competitors in promoting the web as an application platform, Rotibi adds.

“It’s the path of least resistance,” she says. Bolstered by .Net, Silverlight will support 37 languages and run 300 to 1,000 times faster inside web browsers than applications built using native JavaScript, according to Scott Guthrie, a general manager in Microsoft’s developer division.

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