oConomy
October 14, 2009 by Alex Hornbake

Microsoft Silverlight is a browser plugin that allows the delivery of rich media experiences over the web. If you’ve ever watched a movie on Netflix using “Watch Instantly” then you are familiar with the power of Silverlight’s video streaming capabilities when coupled with Microsoft’s IIS Media Services Server. While streaming video was Silverlight 1.0’s main focus, iteration 2.0 expanded upon that, offering the ability to run programs written using any .NET language. Version 3.0 has been out since July (notice the spike on the trend chart for Silverlight developers below) and boasts the ability to stream 1080p HD video, as well as a slew of upgrades that speed up performance and improve the development process.

Silverlight on oDesk
There are currently 520 programmers on oDesk with Silverlight experience. oDesk’s data on the trends for Silverlight developers shows a significant increase in demand over the past six months. While this isn’t as impressive as oDesk’s data on recent Flash developers trends, Silverlight 3 offers some fantastic new features that should keep the demand for talented Silverlight developers on the rise.

silverlight_trend

Key Features
Highlighted below are some of the key features that Silverlight offers. See Scott Gu’s article on Silverlight 3 for more in depth reading.

GPU accelration – Processing of video and graphics can be offloaded to the client’s graphics card, making streaming of 1080p and rendering of 2D and 3d graphics less CPU intensive.

Smooth Streaming – Microsoft’s IIS Media Services Server can vary video streaming bit rates on the fly to insure smooth playback, regardless of client’s CPU load or network congestion.

Codec Support – H.264, MPEG-4, and AAC formats are now supported, as well as the ability to write custom decoders.

Offline Support – Silverlight applications can be configured for local installation and offline use.

Expression Blend 3 – A developer’s tool for Expression Studio that offers a whole other blog post’s worth of tools, including: importing photoshop layers, Sketchflow application prototyping, support for behavior components that encapsulate complex design interactions, and much more.

How To Get Started Developing
Microsoft is offering all of the tools needed to get started for free. Download Microsoft’s Web Platform, which includes Visual Web Developer, SQL Server Express, Silverlight Tools and IIS and ASP.NET Extensions.

Silverlight.net is a great place to read tutorials, and view example projects, and Shawn Wildermuth’s Blog has some great examples and screencasts as well.

Considerations
When choosing to use a new technology, it can be tough to justify being one of the early adopters. Some statistics are showing that Silverlight 3 is currently installed on nearly 20% of all computers. While this is great – especially considering it has only been available for just under 3 months – it is no where near Flash’s 80-90% installation representation. However, Silverlight does tackle some media applications, particularly streaming video, that Flash and Java just can’t handle as well.

Alex Hornbake

Freelance Tech Writer

Alex Hornbake is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. He joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, and brings more than a decade of technical expertise to his clients. Alex shares his point of view to help you make informed decisions for your personal and business technology choices.