After Olympic Success, Microsoft Rolls Out Silverlight 2.0

By Carolyn Braff
Millions of sports fans got a taste of Silverlight 2 during this summer’s Beijing Olympic Games, and now Microsoft is officially releasing the newest version of its Silverlight platform to the masses, making it available for download beginning Tuesday Oct. 14.
“Silverlight 2 has been kind of a unique release,” explains Scott Guthrie, corporate VP of Microsoft’s developer division. “In terms of widespread beta testing and deployment before it went live, it’s kind of unprecedented in the industry, and certainly at least for Microsoft.”
Beginning as early as March 2008, several big-name Microsoft customers went live with Silverlight 2, the most significant of which was NBCOlympics.com. For the 17 days of the games, the NBC Website streamed more than 600 million minutes of video “at bitrates that were unprecedented in terms of that type of event in the industry,” Guthrie says. All videos were available at up to 1.5 Mb.
Broadcasters in France (France Televisions SA), the Netherlands (NOS),
Russia (Sportbox.ru), and Italy (RAI) also delivered Olympics coverage using Silverlight, and the features that users enjoyed in the beta version are all available in the platform’s latest release.
“We’ve not cut any features as part of the final release,” Guthrie says. “Every feature that we’ve demoed is included.”
Silverlight first came on the scene about a year ago as a basic media plug-in that allowed users to stream high-definition video at high quality.
“With Silverlight 2, we’ve really gone much further than that,” Guthrie says. “We’ve spent a lot of time enhancing our video to be even better, adding features like adaptive streaming, which allows you to have really smooth and crisp experiences.”
Among the customers utilizing those new features is the CBS College Sports Network, which streams thousands of hours of live video annually, currently through the beta version of the Silverlight 2 platform.
“I feel pretty good right now in terms of where we’re at,” Guthrie says of the platform’s deployment. “Our strength has been premier media experiences in live video — like CBS Sports and the Olympics — or with higher bitrates. When you actually sit down and look at the experience, the quality difference is more than 10x; it really is like a different experience. For media-specific scenarios, that tends to be where we have a differentiated feature that competition doesn’t have.
“The more events and experiences like [the Olympics] that go live,” he adds, “the higher our deployment will accelerate.”
The deployment-development relationship is a cyclical one: as developers see deployment numbers rise, they push content more aggressively, which in turn, further drives deployment.
“About one in four consumers now have access to a machine that has Silverlight installed,” Guthrie says. “Coming out with a new browser plug-in was an ambitious effort that, going into it, we knew was going to take a couple of years to get the deployment to where we want it to be.”
With deployment in some countries now exceeding 50 percent, Guthrie is confident that the
U.S. will soon follow suit — especially after the Olympics, which Microsoft says boosted Silverlight’s stateside penetration by 30 percent.
The download, which remains 4.5 MB, installs in less than 10 seconds, regardless of browser or platform, and current Silverlight users will automatically be upgraded to the latest version. The platform’s new features also include support for digital-rights-management technology, improved cross-platform support, and deep zoom technology.