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Originally published Thursday, March 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Microsoft Silverlight 3 ups ante in challenge to Adobe Flash

Silverlight 3 marks Microsoft's continued effort to outflank Adobe in the market for platforms and tools for developers to build more sophisticated online applications and distribute media.

Seattle Times technology reporter

With one in three listeners tuning in from outside the Seattle area, radio station KEXP is always trying to improve how it delivers its programming online.

But the listener-funded station has a limited development staff, so it has to be efficient when creating new online applications.

Aaron Starkey, the station's manager of online services, is working on a new KEXP media player that would allow people to stream the station in a Web browser or on a computer desktop using Silverlight 3, which Microsoft released Wednesday in a test version at a conference in Las Vegas.

Starkey and his team will have to write the code only once to offer the player in both places.

"For a small organization like ours ... we have to try to maximize what we can do," Starkey said.

Silverlight 3 marks Microsoft's continued effort to outflank Adobe in the market for platforms and tools for developers to build more sophisticated online applications and distribute media.

Microsoft said Silverlight 2 has been downloaded more than 300 million times. Adobe's online media platform, Flash, is on nearly every PC.

Five months after a final version of Silverlight 2, the Silverlight 3 test version adds several features that could help distance it from Flash.

Brad Becker, director of Silverlight product management, said the ability to run Silverlight applications outside of the browser is significant. In addition to the efficiency of writing the code once, developers will appreciate there are no browser navigation buttons and other elements to distract from their application.

And by putting the application on the desktop, their customers will be able to access it more quickly. "It becomes a stickier experience, where you're just one click away from your customers, so to speak," Becker said.

For something like listening to the radio on the Web, Silverlight can store data — music in this case — and play it back even when the computer isn't connected to the Internet.

Starkey, who demonstrated the prototype KEXP player at the Microsoft event, said the application would also give listeners information about the musicians and songs and allow them to discuss music they're hearing in real time. His goal is to have the player available within six months.

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The Silverlight 3 test version also challenges Flash in high-definition video playback, with support for new standards and a smooth-streaming feature that keeps video from "stuttering" if the Internet link is slowed.

Microsoft used a similar technology, which dials down the quality of playback to keep the frame rate constant, in its deal with NBC to present the 2008 Summer Olympics using Silverlight.

Microsoft said NBC will again use Silverlight for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, B.C.

Microsoft aims to have a final version of Silverlight 3 available "later this year."

Benjamin J. Romano: 206-464-2149 or bromano@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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