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Silverlight: Alphabet Soup No More

As Microsoft product code names go, "WPF/E" had to be among the all-time worst. Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere got its unfortunate nickname from Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). The idea was to convey that WPF/E presents a subset of the incredibly rich graphics and UI environment delivered with WPF as part of Windows Vista and the .NET Framework 3.0.

Last week, Microsoft finally coughed up a name for WPF/E: "Silverlight."

If you find the title a bit underwhelming, join the club. Microsoft, of course, faced a tough task in putting a palatable moniker onto this vital technology. After all, WPF/E (I mean, Silverlight) is supposed to be a lot of things to an awful lot of people.

On the one hand, it's a decidedly Flash-like software runtime that installs on Windows and Mac PCs so that various Web browsers (IE, Firefox, Safari) can display video, animation, vector graphics and the like. On the other, it's a design and development target that will feature tooling and resources for crafting rich media for online delivery. And it's intended to cast its magic on everything from desktop PCs to smart phones.

One thing Silverlight won't do, though, is run on Linux -- at least, not yet. Interesting, that.

Silverlight seems to convey a couple things. One, the branding announcement came at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show, and it's clear that Silverlight is intended to evoke the idea of the "silver screen." Look for Microsoft to push this technology early and often on studios, broadcasters and media providers of every stripe.

Second, Silverlight seems to convey a bit more of a "durable" presence than its nearest competitor, Flash. It's interesting to me that Microsoft passed on a catchy, single-syllable name (like, say, Spark) and went with a concatenation.

Ultimately, what really matters isn't the name, but the force that Microsoft can put behind Silverlight developers. Silverlight will find itself quickly installed on a ridiculous number of client systems, thanks to the wonders of Windows Update. But what Microsoft really needs to do is convince designers and coders that Silverlight is easier, cheaper and more effective to work with than Flash.

Can they do it? You tell me. What would it take for you to switch allegiances from Flash to Silverlight? Write me at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/18/2007

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