Microsoft Wants Agencies, Users to See the Silverlight

Microsoft’s new Silverlight programming platform and browser plug-in have already made waves in the developer world, but Microsoft also intends that it should smooth relations between agency-side designers and the technical designers that implement their ideas. Advertisers and agencies ClickZ News spoke with are excited about the possibilities as well.

Forest Key, director of product management at the server and tools division for Microsoft, said Silverlight’s ability to handily create Rich Interactive Applications (RIAs) will most directly affect developers, but he said it can also help keep sometimes complex branded Web experiences on schedule under budget.

“In particular for creative teams… there’s a common obstacle,” said Key. “The creative team comes up with a concept… and conveying that to the development teams, the technical staff, for them to code and implement and deploy, is a major obstacle. What often happens is that the creative idea that the design team had can’t be implemented in budget.”

He added, “Our focus… is reducing the complexity between designers and developers,” and thereby increasing the scope of what’s possible in rich application development, a growing area of interest for marketers.

Some initial agency testers of Silverlight seem to agree with Key’s assessment, and report a positive response from their design teams.

“The folks in our production department are really excited,” said Marc Ruxin, senior VP and director of digital strategy for McCann Worldgroup. “The samples that we saw really do allow creative people and the technology builders, the builders of these environments, to go further than they have before.”

Victoria Jefferson, account director with AKQA, said Silverlight will add to the San Francisco-based interactive agency’s creative palette.

“At the end of the day it’s not about the technology. It’s about great ideas and what will win out, but having Silverlight gives us even more flexibility in how we deliver that,” she said. “We’ve done some banner advertising that was built out in Silverlight, and in our initial play around with Silverlight it’s quite exciting because it offers higher performance interactive experience. It’s good with animation, video, and it’s got multi-browser support.”

Nir Shimoni, VP of product planning and business development for ad serving technologies and services company Eyeblaster, which has also tested Silverlight, believes that video content owners will appreciate the additional advertising options the system provides.

“Specifically for video content owners this format will allow them, in addition to pre-roll… to inject ads while the video plays without interfering with the user’s experience and the content,” Shimoni said. “We can do additional stuff like leave the banner open, expand it, or if the user shows no interest then we can eliminate the ad and continue with the video content itself.”

The platform, which has been characterized as the software giant’s answer to Flash, will allow programmers to work in AJAX, VB, C#, Python, and Ruby to create content. Ads, videos and RIAs built using Silverlight will be compatible with both the Windows and Mac operating systems and multiple browsers, including Firefox, Safari, and Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer. It’s set for full release this summer after its current beta testing phase.

To facilitate the distribution of the Silverlight plug-in, Microsoft is partnering with large content providers like Major League Baseball, and its own MSN brand, to request users download the plug-in to be able to view content.

“Our strategy and focus is to work with largest media applications and through those to get the rapid adoption and ubiquity,” Key said. “That will usher in a period when advertisers will be interested.”

Key also acknowledged that some users have initially had difficulty downloading Silverlight and that “there are issues in certain configurations,” but insists that the issues with the Beta version will be ironed out before the general release.

“We are highly confident that the plug-in will be ubiquitous,” said Key. “And once we have that ubiquitousness, advertisers are going to look at this technology very seriously for their campaigns.”

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