Page last updated at 09:55 GMT, Friday, 7 March 2008

Microsoft puts net at its heart

Silverlight websites

Web developers have gathered in Las Vegas for Microsoft's annual Mix conference. Blogger and journalist Ewan Spence gives an overview of the talking points from the event.

"We are placing the internet at the centre of our strategy," was the key message that Ray Ozzie, chief technology officer of Microsoft, got over to the attendees at the company's Mix08 conference in Las Vegas this week.

The annual "72 hour conversation" is where the Redmond based company sets out its vision and strategy for the next year.

The big picture driving Microsoft, explained Ozzie, was one of the internet and marketing shaping changes over every product line.

These changes should ensure that there is sufficient space for advertising to be presented to an increasing user base, both in the products and on community and content sites; incidentally this need for advertising space is one reason why Microsoft has shown an interest in Yahoo.

"The Web is acting as a hub for more devices every day," says Ozzie

Typical view

Previously the typical view of the internet was something that a PC would connect to. Now internet aware devices are becoming more commonplace. From 3G enabled smart phones, to digital music players and gaming machines; more consumer electronics are going online.

As people carry more of these devices, they are building their own "personal internet", and Microsoft hope to make the experience of working in this net as seamless as possible.

People should be able to move their information, media and even full programs between these devices without having to worry about if something will or will not work.

Microsoft is pushing Silverlight for rich media websites

This web of devices can be viewed as many small pieces, loosely joined. Developers want to spend more time writing one program that can run on many of these devices, rather than have their creativity suppressed because they must spend time testing compatibility across the range of products.

Microsoft's Silverlight technology is where a lot of effort to solve this problem will be focused on.

This is a set of tools that plugs into your web browser and allows websites to display rich media content and applications - in a similar fashion to Adobe's Flash system.

With a heavy focus on media, especially video, Silverlight can deliver very complicated and detailed web pages.

Multi-view television

Demonstrations at Mix08 included multi-view television where viewers can decide on camera angles and what to watch, and AOL's updated web email client that delivers an experience comparable to a mail client running on your own computer.

The first version of the technology has seen a solid uptake, with 1.5 million copies of the plug-in downloaded every day.

Already available for Windows PC's, Macs and Linux, Microsoft also reiterated the announcement that Nokia would make Silverlight available for the majority of their handsets and internet tablets.

Probably the key release of Mix08 was the beta version of Internet Explorer 8
Probably the key release of Mix08 was the beta version of Internet Explorer 8 (IE8), the latest web browser from Microsoft.

In recent years alternate browsers such as Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox have become increasingly popular, in part due to following internet standards in how pages are displayed - subtle differences between browsers can sometimes make pages look different on IE than in Firefox, for example.

This is no longer the case - the part of IE8 that displays a page has been completely re-written to be standards compliant, much like Safari and Firefox.

Developers will be able to spend much less time making a site work in each browser, and can concentrate on delivering a much better experience.

At a stroke, the single biggest complaint from web developers about Microsoft's browsers have been answered, and the initial reaction from the developers towards the sentiment is positive, albeit with the knowledge that this brings the browser to the same level as others.

Where IE8 is going to prove a success is in connecting the user to information on websites as they journey around the internet.

Silverlight demo
Silverlight has been dubbed a "flash killer"

Microsoft have made it easy for websites that provide services to be used from any other website. For example, if you highlight a street address in IE8, the right click menu will allow you to bring up the location on through the Live Maps service. Find an interesting item you're looking to buy? Right click and be taken directly to the Ebay search results for that product.

Another new element can then be used; Web Slices allow you to subscribe to part of a page and be alerted when the information changes.

Such as when you find the perfect item on Ebay you can use a web slice to subscribe to just that one item; which is then easily followed from the IE8 toolbar.

What Microsoft has chosen to show at Mix08 are not finished products, but the first wave of new products that will become generally available over the next six months. If they continue to innovate and keep both the user experience and the requirements of developers in mind, then their product portfolio is going to be strong and compelling.

The key will be for Microsoft to continue to operate in the currently turbulent business environment, while giving their product teams the confidence to ignore the distractions, such as proposed mergers with Yahoo, and continue to develop the software.

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