Moonlight 2 expands Silverlight capabilities for Linux

The Novell-sponsored Mono Project will announce on Thursday availability of Moonlight 2, an open source browser plug-in that brings to Unix and Linux desktops the capabilities of the Microsoft Silverlight multimedia platform.

The company also will announce an extension of a patent covenant with Microsoft in which Microsoft has pledged not to sue users and distributors of Moonlight, this time covering every Linux variant and not just Novell’s Suse Linux. Novell and Microsoft also have agreed to continue development of Moonlight. Version 2 is downloadable at this Web page.

With Moonlight 2, Novell is offering enhancements for video, audio, and smooth streaming as well as backing for open source video codecs and data binding. “This is our Silverlight 2 implementation with some pieces from Silverlight 3,” said Miguel de Icaza, vice president of the developer platform at Novell and the person in charge of Moonlight.

“The significance of Moonlight is simple,” said analyst Stephen O’Grady, of RedMonk. ” It extends the Silverlight footprint into Linux and Unix territory. That’s useful for users on those platforms that will increasingly be accessing Silverlight-based assets that would otherwise be opaque to them, and it’s useful for Microsoft because it gives them a better cross-platform story to tell as they work to compete with Adobe. “

Capabilities from Silverlight 3 include a pluggable media pipeline. “What this means is a developer can actually replace fundamental pieces of Silverlight media pipeline to do interesting things,” such as smooth streaming, in which users get the appropriate bandwidth needed on demand, said de Icaza.

Open source codecs can be used, such as Ogg and Dirac. Bitmap APIs are supported from Silverlight 3, as are file dialogs. Silverlight 3 capabilities not yet supported in Moonlight include 3D transformations and pixel shaders.

Developers can build applications for Moonlight 2 using Visual Studio and the MonoDevelop IDE. Moonlight 2 features the optimized virtual machine from Mono, which is Novell’s open source implementation of Microsoft’s .Net Framework.

Version 2 of Moonlight embeds Mono runtime functionality into Moonlight, allowing developers to use programming languages including C#, Ruby and Python as well as JavaScript.

Moonlight 1, released about a year ago, had video and audio playback and some graphics capabilities but was limited to JavaScript development, making it slow, de Icaza said. Moonlight 3, which will feature 3D support, is due in the third quarter of 2010. A preview is due in the first quarter of next year.

Moonlight 2 had been expected in September but is only shipping now because Novell needed more time to work on a security sandbox system to protect users from potentially malicious code, de Icaza said.

“It’s very important for Moonlight to have a security system in place,” he said.

Through the expansion of Microsoft’s Patent Covenant to End Users of Moonlight, Microsoft will agree not to sue any Linux users and Moonlight distributors over use of any Microsoft- patented technologies in Moonlight. Users and distributors of Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and Red Hat now are covered as opposed to the covenant previously only applying to Suse Linux.

“This is a logical and, frankly, necessary decision from Microsoft,” O’Grady said. “Competing with the ubiquity of [Adobe] Flash is an uphill battle to begin with, even for a vendor with the distribution reach of Microsoft. If the threat of litigation hangs over potential users of Moonlight on non-Suse platforms, its competition with Adobe for market penetration on non-Windows and Mac platforms would be over before it begun.”

Moonlight, while limited to the relatively small user base of Linux and Unix desktops, will help Silverlight compete with Adobe’s more established Flash platform. “I want to live in a world where I can write my Web applications in C++,” as opposed to just ActionScript, which is used in Flash development, said de Icaza.

Also this week, Mono developers released Mono 2.6 and version 2.2 of MonoDevelop.

Mono 2.6 offers capabilities like Windows Communication Foundation client and server support and backing for Low Level Virtual Machine compiler optimization. It also includes Microsoft’s open-source ASP.Net MVC (Model View Controller) and is faster and slimmer.

MonoDevelop 2.6 code now is licensed under Lesser GPL v2 and MIT X11. GPL code has been removed, allowing add-ins to use Apache and MS-PL code and allowing use of proprietary add-ins. The user interface has been improved in this release.

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