What Is Microsoft Silverlight Used For?

by Elizabeth Mott

First demonstrated in 2007 at developer conferences and released in 2008, Silverlight began as a means of leveraging JavaScript and Windows Media Services to play audio/video content and vector graphics in Web browsers. It matured through five versions to provide support for enhanced rich-media experiences, online galleries, text images, rights-managed media and audio, all without special software installed on the server that provides these graphical assets. Along with a handful of high-visibility Web-based video events and experiences, Silverlight powers Microsoft's own online multimedia content.

Browser Experiences

When you visit the Microsoft website to view tutorials and help videos for the company's software, Silverlight powers the footage display. You'll find the technology in use on other sites connected with Microsoft and its products. Silverlight provides support for streaming media, including high-definition video playback that downshifts to lower-bandwidth formats when it senses a slow connection. Silverlight-powered sites can offer 3-D visuals and zoomable graphics that give the viewer the illusion of traveling through scenes and settings. The framework runs on a browser plugin installed under Windows, OS X and Linux, along with some mobile devices. Silverlight powered NBC's streaming presentations of events from several Olympic Games and has provided support for Netflix's in-browser playback.

Web Applications

Along with streaming and interactive experiences, Microsoft designed Silverlight to provide the basis for creating Web applications and other developer technologies. Microsoft's Visual Studio and Expression Studio use Silverlight to power rapid application development of online and desktop installations that use .NET code. Sketchflow promotes quick prototyping with animation features. The Silverlight plugin provides the subset of .NET code necessary to run on client computers. The move away from proprietary multimedia experiences and toward HTML5, however, means that Silverlight appears to face an uncertain future.

Competing Technologies

Because it relies on a browser plugin to deliver multimedia experiences rather than server-hosted code such as PHP or MySQL, Silverlight falls under the heading of client-side technologies. As of November 2013, 0.2 percent of websites used Silverlight to support rich media experiences, compared with 16.3 percent for Flash and 89.1 percent for JavaScript, according to technology research firm W3Techs. Flash, which gained popularity as a website programming tool when it belonged to Macromedia and has continued its acceptance as an Adobe Systems product, reached the Web-development world before Silverlight and became difficult to unseat, hindering Silverlight's adoption. Microsoft has announced that it will suspend support for Silverlight in 2021.

Successors to Silverlight

If you want to view instructional video content on Microsoft's websites, you'll need the Silverlight plugin. As support for plugin based proprietary multimedia technologies wanes, however, the future points toward browser experiences powered by HTML5, along with specialized development of JavaScript-powered code to protect intellectual property and handle encryption of streaming assets. Even Flash, the most widely used proprietary Web multimedia technology, no longer undergoes active development for mobile multimedia.

About the Author

Elizabeth Mott has been a writer since 1983. Mott has extensive experience writing advertising copy for everything from kitchen appliances and financial services to education and tourism. She holds a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in English from Indiana State University.

Photo Credits

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