Category Archives: silverlight

Moonlight update: Silverlight 2 on Linux hardly started

Miguel de Icaza has an update on Moonlight, a third-party but official implemention of Silverlight for Linux.

Although progress is rapid, it is disappointing to read that a Silverlight 2.0 implementation is hardly started:

Silverlight 2.0 Other than the JIT support for Silvelright 2.0 at this point we have not done any work on it (well there are 3 classes stubbed privately).

There are two reasons for this: the updated 2.0 API is not public and although we have access to it, it is a bit of a mess to try to keep two separate trees (public and private) to support this and since Mix is just around the corner, we will just wait until next week.

The second reason is that we want to focus on shipping 1.0, completing the media pack integration and working on the configuration aspects of Moonlight (auto-update configuration for instance).

Good reasons; but the question it raises is this: by how long will Linux implementations lag the Windows and Mac releases of Silverlight? Silverlight 2.0 is hugely important because it enables .NET code to run. I constantly meet folk who are developing for Silverlight but waiting for version 2.0 as the real thing. Version 1.0 is browser JavaScript only.

More positively, at least we know that Mono already has a decent desktop implementation of .NET, so the fundamentals are there.

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Latest stats: Video web growing fast

Nielsen Online has released statistics about the most popular social networking sites in the UK and their growth year-on-year:

Jan 08

Rank Jan 07


UK Unique Audience (000s) Jan 08

UK Unique Audience (000s) Jan 07

Change in UA Jan 07 – Jan 08

Social media type

















































Add-on tool



Yahoo! Answers







Windows Live Spaces











Travel reviews

Source: Nielsen Online, UK NetView, home & work data, including applications, Jan 2007 – Jan 2008
E.g. YouTube was visited by 10.4 million Britons in Jan 08, 56% more than in Jan 07

Three things I found interesting. First, huge growth for Facebook and a decline for MySpace – but this is a volatile market and Facebook may the the next site to beome less fashionable.

Second, the huge reach of these sites. Neilsen reckons that 20.8 million Brits visited at least one of these sites in January, representing 63% of those online.

Third, the growth of video. I think this is the most reliable long-term trend. You can see it more clearly in Neilsen’s figures for the fastest growing sites, five of which are video sites (vidShadow, Veoh, Youku (Chinese site), Tudou (Chinese site) and Video Jug), as well as in the rise of YouTube to first place.

Is the Internet moving towards video in the same way as traditional media (print -> radio -> TV)? Possibly.

There is a technical story here too. I’m at Mix08 this week, where Microsoft is promoting its Silverlight plug-in for video and rich visual content. However, all these sites currently use Adobe’s Flash plug-in, which will be hard to shift. Without the ubiquity and ease of installation which Adobe has achieved with Flash, I doubt we would be seeing this growth in video content.

Mix08: Rich Internet the Microsoft way

I’ve just registered here at Microsoft’s Mix08 conference in Las Vegas. I’ve heard a lot from Adobe recently, with Adobe AIR just launched, so this is a great opportunity to get Microsoft’s angle on the Rich Internet Application concept. Silverlight 2.0 will be prominent, as will Internet Explorer 8. I asked a developer on the plane what he likes about Silverlight compared to Flash. He told me that it is much easier to create Silverlight content dynamically at runtime, thanks to XAML. Silverlight renders XAML, whereas Flex compiles MXML – a significant difference.

In the Mix “Sandbox” lounge I got my first glimpse of Microsoft surface, which looks compelling. I hope to have  a better play later.

This evening O’Reilly is launching a new book by Christian Lenz called Essential Silverlight 2 Up-to-date. It is a new concept from O’Reilly, using a kind of ring binder (not actually a ring, but you know the kind of thing). The book which I saw is 50% blank pages; but the idea is that you will be able to receive or download additional pages and insert them into the book to keep it up-to-date. Not a new concept, but still an interesting attempt to address the problem of technical books quickly becoming out-of-date. It is particularly suitable for Silverlight 2.0 which is not done yet. At the same time, I can imagine this being a considerable hassle, and pages bound like this don’t turn quite as easily. I hope to review the book in due course.

It turns out that the Venetian Hotel and Casino, where Mix takes place, is a Microsoft customer. How do I know? Well, many of the rooms sport screens over the door advertising various hotel attractions, and I spotted one that has a distinctive Microsoft flavour.

Which goes to show that wherever you are in the world, you are never more than 12 screens from a Windows error message.

If you’re at Mix and would like to chat, by all means get in touch.

Silverlight steals the show at Microsoft’s UK Heroes launch

I attended Microsoft’s “Heroes Happen Here” launch in London yesterday, which overlapped the US launch presented by CEO Steve Ballmer. The launch is for Visual Studio 2008, Windows Server 2008, and SQL Server 2008, though these products are in varying degrees of readiness.

The event was marred by excessive reliance on buzzwords like “Dynamic IT” – someone should tell Microsoft that phrases like this, or “People Ready” which was used for the Vista launch, have no meaning. Dr Andrew Hopkirk from UK’s National Computing Centre enthused about the general benefits of virtualization, which led to a comical moment later. I asked one of Hopkirk’s colleagues what the NCC thought about Microsoft’s Hyper-V or other virtualization technologies. “Oh, we haven’t evaluated it,” he said. “Most people use VMware and they love it”.

I hate to be disloyal, but the US event which was relayed by satellite, and which hardly any of the UK journalists watched, was more up my street. Ballmer didn’t shout too much, and I liked the drilldowns into specific features of the three products.

Still, after several dry presentations the UK event brightened up when Paul Curtis from EasyJet, a UK budget airline, showed us a proof-of-concept Silverlight application which the company plans to implement on its web site towards the end of this year. We saw an attractive Rich Internet Application which was a mash-up of flight routes and fares, Microsoft Virtual Earth, and reviews from TripAdvisor. Here’s a blurry snap of how you might book a hotel in Barcelona. It’s a compelling visual UI which of course reminded me of similar things I’ve seen implemented with Adobe’s Flash and Flex. Behind the scenes the app will use Server 2008, IIS 7.0, and a SQL Server 2008 Data Warehouse, so this is the perfect case study.

I wanted to ask Curtis whether he was happy with Silverlight’s cross-platform capabilities, and why he was using Silverlight in preference to Flash. However, his bio states that he is a member of the Windows Live Special Interest Group and on the Microsoft Architect Council, so I suspect the answer would be, “it’s what we know.” It does support my impression that despite the rise of Flash, there is still a place for Silverlight within the large Microsoft platform community.

Finally, there was brief mention of high take-up for Microsoft Softgrid, which is described as “application virtualization”. I’ve made this the subject of a separate post.

PS: I met blogger Mark Wilson at the event; he has a more detailed write-up.

Adobe AIR now available; not just consumer fluff

Adobe has released AIR and you can download the runtime and SDK now, as well as FlexBuilder 3, the official IDE for AIR. Just to remind you, AIR is a way of running Flash applications on the desktop, supplemented by SQLite, a fast local database manager.

Among the most interesting case studies I’ve seen is from LMG, which runs loyalty schemes including the Nectar card and Air Miles. The big deal for the retailers is that using your loyalty card lets them identify who is buying what, providing mountains of data which can be mined for trends and the like. I do mean mountains. Nectar is used by Sainsburys. Between 25 and 40 million “basket items” are added to the database each day, and the database holds 2 years of data.

LMG’s Self-serve is an app in development which enables Sainsburys and its suppliers to analyze this data; it could potentially be used by other retailers too. “The application answers questions like how’s my brand performing, who’s buying my brand, what else are they buying,” says Garth Ralston, LMG’s Business Intelligence Development Manager.

Self-Serve is built with AIR and Flex. “Excel spreadsheets, which some of our competitors use, and the pie charts than you can create within them, are so 1990’s”, says Ralston. “We’re looking for a little bit more of the Wow factor.”

A couple of things particularly interested me. One is that SQLite is critical for the app, which works by downloading large chunks of data and manipulating it on the client. This means that Self-Serve would not work as a browser application, unless possibly with Google Gears, which also uses SQLLite. Another is the importance of offline working. “The ability to have a user run the app, run a report, download the data to their system, take the laptop on the train and continue to work is an absolute business requirement”, says Ralston.

James Governor, Redmonk analyst, told the press that BMC will be using AIR as a front-end to integrate its mainframe management offerings, and SAP will be using it. “Frankly, I think this will be the front-end for all SAP business applications,” he said. In other words, AIR is not just consumer fluff.

Governor is just back from Sun, as I am, and while I was there I picked up some anxiety at the way Flash and now AIR are doing what Java was intended to do – provide a rich cross-platform client. Has Adobe stolen Sun’s market? “Sun is quite capable of stealing its own market”, he said. “Java just hasn’t delivered the kind of rich desktop experiences that we would expect and hope.” That said, note that FlexBuilder is a Java application, Adobe’s server-side LiveCycle data services are Java, and Adobe’s ColdFusion runs on Java, so there are pros and cons here for Sun’s technology.

Actually, I suspect you could build Self-Serve in Java without much difficulty. The big win for AIR is that it’s home territory for multitudes of Flash designers. This is as much about designer and developer communities as it is about technology. The same applies to Microsoft’s Silverlight, which is ideal for Visual Studio developers to whom Flash is foreign.

I still have reservations about AIR, though there is also much to like. It’s early days of course; I’m looking forward to trying it for real. I also love the way these new initiatives are making us rethink the design of essential applications that have remained essentially unchanged for years.