Microsoft Silverlight and Expression Hit the Big 3 Mark

Microsoft (news, site) hits the difficult third album with its would-be web framework king and development systems -- Silverlight 3 and Expression 3. What's new under the hood for those wanting to make a splash online?

Let the Web Battles Commence

Microsoft Silverlight (said charitably)  had a difficult first release, made some improvements in the sophomore effort and is now, if you scour the opinions of testers and pundits on the web, pretty much the real deal.

Microsoft Expression, on the other hand, entered a crowded market as a design tool and is still struggling to make itself stand out from the competition. Will the rise of Silverlight help give it a leg up?

So, for different reasons, Microsoft needs to make a big impression for both products. You may have already come across Silverlight 3 on some sites during its test phase.

Recently, it was seen in action on the NBC's Wimbledon (and the upcoming U.S. Open) tennis coverage or something a little more spectacular like this bandwidth streaming demo.

Silverlight 3 Features

The feature list for Silverlight is impressive, and it has to compete with the likes of Flash and Adobe AIR. Offering multi-threaded, multi-core hardware support, hi-def video, out-of-browser applications and a blizzard of video features, it is truly a modern framework aimed at the current and next generation of online content. Silverlight can be tied into other systems via IronPython, IronRuby, JavaScript and, of course, .NET.

Silverlight changes and adapts the video quality of a media file based on available bandwidth and CPU conditions in order to deliver an optimized viewing experience. This provides support for live and on-demand true HD (720p+) streaming. Video giant Netflix first employed the platform in 2007 to power its instant viewing service.

All of this technology and verve wouldn't add up to much without a decent creation system. And this is where Expression steps in.

Expression 3's Role

Expression Web 3 and Expression Studio 3 help designers create sites and Silverlight projects. Expression Blend is a Studio tool for moving a prototype site or application through the design phases to realization.

New to Blend 3 is SketchFlow, which allows for the expression of ideas, prototypes to be created, work across teams, companies or with clients and testing. Designers can use SketchFlow to model the navigation within an application in a very visual manner, from standard flow notation to a full working mock-up.

The Silverlight plug-in, to get users trying your creations, is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. It is just a 4MB download.

Microsoft claims Silverlight is installed on one third of machines, still some way off Flash's 99% penetration numbers. Expression Studio and Design are available individually, or as a pack.

Developers are gathering at the Silverlight.net home page for advice and information. More details are coming out at the WPC09 event.