Yes, Virginia, Silverlight 2.0 really will change everything.
In the absence of public beta/alpha bits coming out of Redmond, the blogosphere has been chewing on the words of ScottGu and Tim Sneath, pondering what Silverlight 2.0 will mean for the Web and the industry as a whole.
Noah Gedrich sums it up nicely in an eWeek article entitled "Users Itching for Silverlight 2.0"
"By providing a real competitor to the Flash Player and the Adobe Web tools, Silverlight has the potential to force both Adobe and Microsoft to be more responsive to the needs of the end users and the designer and developer communities," Gedrich said.
Flash has had an effective monopoly on the Rich Internet Experience for about ten years. Innovation in the Flash space has been disappointingly slow, with much of the innovations in the past five years coming from 3rd party vendors such as Electric Rain (3D) and Swish (Flash IDE alternative).
The entry of Microsoft into this space has already caused Adobe to dramatically lower the cost of their Flash Media Server. I'm quite certain this is only the start of price restructuring and innovation that happens once there is competition. That's something that California, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia might want to consider.
Silverlight does so much more than Flash was ever meant to do. Silverlight and Flash are different approaches to the same goal. They are both competing and non-competing technologies.
Silverlight's codename "WPF/E" (aka WPF Everywhere) says a lot about its nature: it's an application development platform built to bring the Smart Client experience everywhere, even Ink for Tablet PCs and, at some point in the future, mobile phones.
Don't make the mistake of tossing Silverlight in the same bucket as Flash. While they definitely compete in some significant areas, and both have real strengths in different areas, Silverlight 2.0 was created from the ground-up to be an application development platform equally friendly to designers and developers. If you're a .NET developer (or want to be), you'll find the .NET framework included with Silverlight to be extremely capable and powerful.
Silverlight can do all the fancy animation Flash can do, but it's more than that.
The real key here is that you get a runtime engine that runs in the browser, but doesn't care about browser version or even the platform.
No fiddling with minute rendering problems from browser to browser or even platform to platform.
You build the solution in Silverlight and you deploy over the web.
This promise may sound familiar to Java developers who jumped aboard in the mid 90's. The hope then was "write once, run anywhere."
That never happened. It never even came close to happening.
Java on the client never really took off.
To all the Java developers reading this with your arms crossed and blood pressures rising, read this post.
So, it is not without irony that Silverlight in 2008 will fulfill the promise Java made in 1995 but never met.