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Introducing Microsoft® Silverlight(TM) 3

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As the Web grows and evolves, so do the expectations of the Web user. When the first Web browser was developed, it was created to provide a relatively simple way to allow hyperlinking between documents. Then these early browsers were coupled with the cross-machine protocols encompassing the Internet, and suddenly documents stored on computer servers anywhere in the world could be hyperlinked to each other.

Over time, the people who were using the Internet changed—the user base expanded from a small group of people associated with universities and computational research to encompass the general population. And what had been an acceptable user interface for experts in the field was greatly lacking for commercial applications. People now want high-quality user interfaces that are simple to use—and as more types of information, including many kinds of media files, are available on the Internet, it becomes more difficult to satisfy users’ expectations about how easy it should be to access the information they want.

The need to supply users with sophisticated methods of accessing Internet resources that were easy to use led to advanced application technologies. One type of technology, for example, created “plug-in” browser tools that allowed the browser to use some of the user’s local computational horsepower.

ActiveX controls, Java Applets, and Flash applications are examples of plug-in technology. Asynchronous JavaScript and XML (AJAX) is another tool that has been introduced to develop new and exciting user interfaces that benefit from immediate partial updates. Using AJAX, the browser’s screen area doesn’t flash or lock up since the need for full-page refreshes is reduced.

Although AJAX provides technology to enable developers to build Web sites that contain more complex content and are more dynamic than HTML alone could provide, AJAX does have its limitations. For example, it allows asynchronous communication with the server, which means that applications can update themselves using background threads, eliminating the screen flicker so often seen with complex Web user interfaces. But AJAX is strictly a browser-to-server communications mechanism. It lacks graphics, animation, video, and other capabilities that are necessary to provide for truly multimedia user interfaces.

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