Microsoft has officially launched its Silverlight 3 platform and Expression Studio 3 suite of interactive design tools, adding offline capabilities for running applications outside of a browser and improvements in areas like 3D.

Microsoft said that in conjunction with Microsoft's Visual Studio software development platform, Silverlight and Expression offer a collaborative development and design environment. Silverlight and its accompanying software development kit appeared online before the launch, earlier last week.

Silverlight must compete with the more established Adobe Flash platform as well as with Sun's JavaFX technology -- and complicating this field are HTML technologies that some analysts say eliminate the need for plug-ins such as Silverlight, Flash or JavaFX.

But Microsoft said adoption of Silverlight has accelerated, with more than one in three Internet devices having installed the earlier Silverlight 2 release since its release about nine months ago. Silverlight customers being announced on Friday including the MGM SGU: Stargate Universe and Continental Airlines, which plans to use Silverlight in a call centre reservation system.

Silverlight going for gold

NBC Sports, which has used Silverlight in its coverage of the 2008 Olympics, is announcing intentions to use Silverlight for online video delivery across its sporting franchises.

"As we look forward to the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver as well as other major championships in 2010, we will be using Silverlight as the preferred technology to deliver the best in next-generation online high-definition video experiences," said NBC's Perkins Miller, senior vice president for digital media, in a statement released by Microsoft. NBC has used Silverlight and Microsoft Internet Information Services Smooth Streaming for its Live at Wimbledon video presentation.

In addition to offline capabilities, Silverlight 3 features 3D and hardware graphics acceleration. Other features cited have included improved data-binding and additional controls.

Silverlight is a free runtime. Microsoft also is offering its Visual Studio Professional Edition and Expression together for $999 (around £630). Included as part of Expression 3 is SketchFlow, for rapid prototyping of applications.

Microsoft says that Expression Studio 3 will ship in the next 30 days. The suite's tools include Expression Blend for interactive design; Expression Web for Web design, with support for CSS and the soon-to-be-discontinued XHTML standard; Expression Encoder for video encoding, and Expression Design for illustration and design. The Expression Media asset management tool has been dropped from version 3 of Expression Studio, but will still be available separately.