Silverlight 1.1 beta to become 2.0 beta

The edition of Silverlight that Microsoft touted from the beginning as having the C# and .NET functionality that its 1.0 edition lacked, is evolving from what it had described as an upgrade into a major overhaul.

Since its inception, Microsoft has continually been developing two versions of its programmable Web graphics platform Silverlight. In fact, on the very day of its public premiere, the company introduced developers to what was being called the "1.0 beta" and the "1.1 alpha."

The 1.0 version enables Web pages to communicate with the WPF/E library from .NET Framework 3.5, to produce rich graphical, interactive displays and panels that are controlled with JavaScript. But the 1.1 version has always been the more ambitious project, with two key differences the company wanted to take extra time to get right: first, programmability using high-level .NET languages such as C#, by way of a plug-in for Visual Studio 2008; second, the ability to open the doors wide for Web pages to have full access to .NET, through a scaled-down version of the Common Language Runtime.

It's the latter development that might put Silverlight more on a par with Sun's Java than with Adobe's Flash.

Microsoft confirmed to BetaNews today that the next release of what had been called the Silverlight "1.1 beta" is being prepared for release as "Silverlight 2.0 beta," sometime during Q1 2008. As before, the company will offer developers its "Go-Live" licensing terms, which enable them to go ahead and deploy what's still considered a beta in production environments. That deployment requires them to be able to distribute the Silverlight runtime to clients.

After months of having explained the point-one nomenclature as representing the true culmination of what Microsoft always wanted the point-oh version to be from the beginning, a Microsoft spokesperson told us today the two-oh renaming was done "to better capture the scope of the feature set for the next version of Silverlight."

"At the end of the day, this is just branding," admitted Microsoft technical evangelist Tim Sneath on his blog today.

"Adding together the Common Language Runtime, Base Class Libraries, Dynamic Language Runtime, the UI Frameworks, DRM, and a bunch of other features I'm not going into at this stage," Sneath wrote, "it's apparent that if this doesn't count as a major version release, the bar will be set so impossibly high that we'll never be able to name a Silverlight release as anything other than version 1.x!"

Another of the key features users should expect to see with the 2.0 deployment is the use of rich on-screen controls. Back in the last decade when Microsoft was actively developing the ActiveX project, it devised a common control library called Forms. It contained the usual window gadgets such as scroll bars, check boxes, and radio buttons, and it was intended to look exactly like the MFC controls library already in use.

But the trouble was that Forms would only work in Web pages deployed in Windows; and it could conceivably work in Netscape for Windows, but it took some under-the-hood maneuvers to make it work. In short, Forms failed.

Now, Microsoft is working on a set of on-screen controls that are not only cross-platform (meaning, if a Mac OS user had WPF/E installed, she could use those controls through Safari), but which can actually be skinnable, using extensions that could conceivably be customized by the user.

Microsoft developer Scott Guthrie advised users on his blog today to expect cross-domain network access as well. This means a Silverlight client could conceivably acquire data from a third party -- not the server, and not the local browser or the user's local PC. That's a tricky subject, and it's impossible to imagine that no one would even attempt an exploit of such a setup.

Guthrie also said to expect a preview release of the version 3.5 extensions for ASP.NET, which will include an improved edition of ASP.NET AJAX -- Microsoft's implementation of Asynchronous JavaScript. (Silverlight uses JavaScript, not AJAX.) A Microsoft spokesperson told BetaNews the drop date for ASP.NET 3.5 is "early December," which could be as soon as next week.

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