Silverlight, Microsoft's cross-browser plug-in technology for rich multimedia experiences, is making the rounds as an alternative to Adobe Systems's rival Flash platform. Early observers and users of Silverlight at the MIX08 conference in Las Vegas last week emphasized, among other things, its accommodations for .Net software development skills.

"The thing that makes Silverlight interesting, especially [for] .Net developers is that you can use C#," said Carl Kenne, a developer at .Net consultants Dotway in Sweden.

This is unlike the rival Adobe Flash platform, which requires hiring external people familiar with Adobe's technology, Kenne said.

Still, in examining Silverlight's visual capabilities, as opposed to what Flash offers, Kenne could not really see a difference. Microsoft might say Silverlight offers sharper video capabilities, but Adobe would probably say the same thing about its own technology, said Kenne. "It's very similar. It's hard to just by looking at it see that this is Flash and this is Silverlight," Kenne said.

Another attendee also lauded Silverlight. "For us, it's a home run," said Andy Norris director of technology at Handel Information Technologies, which develops criminal justice and human services applications.

Silverlight enables development of the same application for the desktop and the Web, he said, noting that XAML can be used on both the desktop and browser, he said. "We can get everything done with less than half the work," said Norris.

Flash, he said, has been focused on designers as opposed to developers, "It's a really big deal for designers, and every designer out there knows Flash, but developers really haven't been a big part of the Flash story," Norris said.

But Norris expressed concern about follow-ups on pledges pertaining to the Silverlight platform. Silverlight is set to run on Linux and mobile clients but does not yet, Norris said. (A beta version of Silverlight for Linux, Novell's Moonlight software, is available.)

NBC's Perkins Miller, company vice president of digital media, cited at MIX08 NBC plans to stream 2,200 hours of live Olympics coverage using Silverlight. Microsoft's technology will enable, for example, a user to access a biography of basketball player LeBron James while watching USA Olympics basketball.

"The ability to sort of touch the screen and get information is something you can really only get with the Silverlight-enhanced product," Miller said in an interview after the conference.

In choosing Silverlight, Miller cited NBC's existing relationship with Microsoft via the MSNBC broadcast channel. "It was a broader partnership with Microsoft overall that really made this make sense, and, of course, the technology of Silverlight is really impressive," Miller said.

Asked about the benefits of Silverlight over Flash, Miller emphasized that he was not a developer, but that in his experience in working with Silverlight, Microsoft has been able to take new steps in terms of integrating data and creating new navigation.

NBC plans to show 25 sports streamed live via NBCOlympics.com and Silverlight. All 34 sports will be available via video on-demand.

While Silverlight 2 currently only is a beta product, NBC is not worried. "We're very confident in Microsoft's ability to deliver this product," said Miller.

Software developer iBloks, which works with advertisers, provides a 3D platform that leverages Silverlight.

"Really, Microsoft's technology with Windows Presentation Foundation and now with Silverlight is allowing us to really leverage not just the connectivity of broadband but the power of the graphics chip to create incredibly beautiful ads and interactive experiences," said Julia Miller, founder, CEO and president of iBloks. iBloks also outputs to other technologies, such as Google Gadgets and Flash, but considers Silverlight the best scenario, she said.

An Adobe official questioned the notion that Silverlight offers an advantage by levering .Net development skills.

"Well, that's kind of like saying that the nice thing about Flex and Flash is that it lets you build great rich internet experiences without having to learn .Net," said Ben Forta, Adobe director of platform evangelism. "Obviously, whether you are trying to learn Flash/Flex or Silverlight, you are going to have to learn the platform."

For coders, Flex requires no more than learning XML tags and ActionScript to deliver applications that run on more than 98 percent of desktops, taking advantage of Flash Player, Forta said. "The fact of the matter is that Microsoft is now starting down this road with Silverlight, and the Flash platform is already tried and tested and proven and has been so for over a decade," he said

At Schematic, which has provided professional services for NBC pertaining to Silverlight, a company official hailed the technology's benefits but also gave a nod to the Flash platform as well.

"Silverlight is a really important enabling technology for very high-quality video experiences," said Matthew Rechs, CTO at Schematic.

Silverlight and Flash provide "different ways of achieving the same thing," Rechs said. But Flash is more widely used by designers, while Microsoft tools are better utilized by developers, he said.

Silverlight gives users "a way of making these rich media experiences that traditionally were only available using Flash," said Rechs.

Flash, he said, has had a big advantage in its market share and its success in enabling video to be watched on the Internet. Flash has been widely adopted by advertisers for bringing ad messages to Web content, said Rechs. Schematic has worked with Flash clients as well, he said.