Downloads Beta in Silverlight

SilverlightI’ve been wondering when Microsoft will finally implement Silverlight on to its own website. For a long time, the Silverlight animation on the frontpage advertising itself was somewhat of a disappointment and a paradox – ironically requiring Silverlight to be installed to view the ad showing off the capabilities of itself.

Today (via ActiveWin), Microsoft has quietly launched a beta of its Downloads Center website presented entirely in Silverlight which demonstrates some of the rich user-experience capabilities it has been long promising. Although not to say it doesn’t have its fair share of problems either.

Microsoft Downloads Beta

On the welcome page of the Microsoft Download Center beta website, they explain the purpose of the beta and their goals to “spruce up the site and make it easier to discover and download Microsoft software”. The only requirement is at least Silverlight version 0.95 to be installed.

At first look, this site bears a lot of resemblance to the current frontpage which is a good sign of consistency – something the Microsoft site lacks very much. But it also means what you see here at least can be easily achieved with just traditional HTML and CSS. Only when you start interacting with certain elements you begin to notice the difference. And for a Microsoft site, they’ve certainly raised the bar in terms of attention to detail.

For example, the navigation menu on the right has a baby-smooth transition between as one category collapses and another opens. And when you hover each link in the menu, a subtle animated background appears behind the link instead of just a boring solid fill. Take a look at this quick walkthrough I prepared earlier of some of the main features.

[flv:msdownload-silverlight.flv 660 455]

If you do happen to try the site yourself, you’ll notice that some parts can be extremely slow to load. Sometimes I will click on the “Browse Downloads” button and it will just sit there for up to 10 seconds without any form of feedback something is loading. Hopefully these performance issues is just a bug by design and is not a widespread problem of Silverlight, although most of the Silverlight websites I’ve been to are not particularly spiffy either.

For an attempt to replace a traditionally HTML only website entirely with Silverlight is a rather bold step. This is perhaps dogfooding at its finest. However I doubt something like this will ever make it to final release because of a few accessibility roadblocks with Silverlight. Even the most basic accessibility function to tab through screen elements with the keyboard is not supported until Silverlight 1.1. Accessibility aside, this is a great demo to showcase Silverlight’s UI capability.

Maybe one day they’re even get around to “spruce up” particular pages like this one.

11 insightful thoughts

  1. In firefox it doesn’t load correctly (or at least in 3.0b1 it doesn’t)
    In IE I got an error when clicking a link in the browse downloads section:

    Error Type: DownloadError
    Error Message: AG_E_NETWORK_ERROR
    Error Code: 4001

    Other than that, it’s really MUCH better than the previous one, where a new page had to be loaded everytime you click something.

  2. It looks very nice (uuh Longhorn-esque buttons!) but I have the same concerns with Silverlight as with Flash: no ClearType for text, no ability to open links in a new window/tab and no zoom functionality. And does someone know if search engines can search such Silverlight pages and link directly to the download?

  3. why don’t Microsoft release the silverlight installer as a ActiveX or similar control in Firefox rather than a seperate download. I assume its an activeX control in IE but i havnt had a chance to try it.

  4. Ok, I’ve installed and used Silverlight before, but it’s not working.

    It tells me I don’t have it, I press the “Install” button, and everytime, it fails. It just won’t install.

    It says I already do have the current one, but if I do, why won’t it work?

    Can anyone help?

  5. Who is “wojtekmaj”? Not intuitive, wojtekmaj? It’s a download page, wojtekmaj! If you can’t figure out a download page, you’re a complete idiot. And I went to your website… nice thumbnails. Hiding safely behind your thumbnails, I see.

    By the way, saying “not intuitive” doesn’t make you seem smart. Constructive criticism makes you seem smart, wojtekmaj. I know you want to seem smart. Idiots like to seem smart. So I’m just giving you some advice. Good luck!

    By the way, the download page was fine. Other than the latency problems, it looked clean and did what it was supposed to do. Geez…

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