Microsoft Hits a 'Popfly'

In a move to popularize Silverlight, its competitor to Adobe Flash, Microsoft has released the public beta of a mashup tool for non-technical users called Popfly.

Microsoft has begun the public beta test of Popfly, a mashup tool for its Silverlight cross-browser, cross-platform, streaming media technology.

Company CEO Steve Ballmer made the announcement at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco Thursday.

Popfly, which was introduced in alpha test form by Microsoft in May, is built on Silverlight. It's designed to enable non-technical users to easily create mashups – quickly-built composite applications that combine data and functions from more than one application on a single Web page – on Silverlight.

For instance, Popfly could be used to "build a Web page for a club or organization, such as a soccer team page that would include a schedule, photos and videos from past games, [and] directions to upcoming matches," according to one Microsoft statement.

Other technologies and application components that can be used in building Popfly mashups include Microsoft's Virtual Earth and Live Search services. Advanced users can also use it with Visual Studio Express, another Microsoft statement said.

Many industry observers see Silverlight as a direct competitor to Adobe's Flash technology. Whether it will displace Flash, however, is far from clear. However, if the popularity that Microsoft claims from the alpha test is any indication, it could give Flash a run for its money.

"In a little over five months since the private Popfly alpha, we've seen the number of users grow from about 100 to over 50,000," S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, said in a blog post Thursday.

The company has also partnered with social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, so that their features can be incorporated into Popfly mashups, he added.

But Flash is well ensconced on users' desktops, and Microsoft has a long ways to go yet to prove that Silverlight will supersede it. Some observers are still skeptical.

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