At last week’s FireStarter event, Microsoft finally unveiled the new version of Silverlight, its online application platform. A beta version is slated for early 2011, at which time developers will be able to explore the improvements to Silverlight's media delivery and application coding environment, but in the meantime, here are some highlights of Microsoft Silverlight 5.

Scott Guthrie, corporate VP of the Microsoft .NET developer platform, outlined the big new features of Silverlight 5 in a keynote speech, which you can watch clips of here. And his personal blog entry goes into more depth, with all sorts of technical information sure to catch the interest of a detail-oriented developer, and is worth a read.

But for now here are a few quick highlights of the new developer features, as per Microsoft’s Silverlight 5 fact sheet:
  • Fluid user interface, which enables smoother animation within the UI. Inter-Layout Transitions allow developers to specify animations to apply when elements are added, removed or reordered within a layout. This provides smoother user experiences when, for example, items are inserted into a list.
  • Reduced network latency by using a background thread for networking.
  • XAML parser improvements that speed up startup and runtime performance.
  • Support for 64-bit operating systems.
  • Launching of Microsoft Office and other desktop programs. Users can open Microsoft Outlook and create an e-mail message, or send a report to Word utilizing the power of Office.
And on the media end, applications can now display video at different speeds, stop the screen saver from activating when video is playing, support remote controls, and switch between DRM media sources seamlessly.

It’s early days yet, and the only ones who have really done anything with Silverlight 5 so far are Microsoft employees themselves.

The VAR Guy’s burning questions, as we keep an eye on Silverlight 5 going forward: Will VARs and ISVs be able to leverage it to build applications that play nicely with the upcoming Microsoft Office 365 cloud suite? And does this put the kibosh on talks of Adobe-Microsoft conspiracy, since Microsoft clearly intends to support Silverlight over Flash for some time to come?

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