Silverlight is one of the new web development technologies that Microsoft has been promoting. As a database professional, you might be wondering what Silverlight is and what it offers to those in the SQL Server world. I’ve compiled five FAQs about Silverlight that give you the essentials on this new technology.

1. What is Silverlight and is it free?

Microsoft Silverlight is essentially a technology for building Rich Internet Applications (RIA). Silverlight applications are based on the .NET Framework and are an alternative to using Adobe Flash. Silverlight provides the ability to deliver streaming media and interactive applications for the web and is delivered as a browser plug-in.

Silverlight 3 is Microsoft’s most recent release, but Silverlight 4 is currently in beta and is expected to be available mid-2010. Yes, it’s free.

2. What browsers does it support?

Silverlight 3 supports Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari. Silverlight 4 will add Google Chrome to this list. Both Windows and Mac have a Silverlight runtime.

At this time there’s no Silverlight support for Linux. However, Mono is developing an open-source implementation of Silverlight named Moonlight. (Mono has also developed an open-source implementation of the .NET Framework.) You can find out more about Moonlight at the Mono Project website.

3. What can database developers do with it?

Earlier versions of Silverlight were targeted more toward rich media delivery from the web. However, Silverlight 3 includes support for data binding with SQL Server, making Silverlight a viable choice for building RIA business applications on the web. Silverlight 4 will provide drag-and-drop support for data binding with several built-in controls, including the listbox and datagrid controls.

You can learn more about Silverlight data binding at the MSDN Silverlight site. In addition, Visual Studio (VS) 2010 will include a new Business Application Template to help you build line-of-business Silverlight applications.

4. Can it access resources on the client system?

Yes. Silverlight supports building both sandboxed and trusted applications. Sandboxed applications are restricted to the browser. Trusted Silverlight applications are able to access client resources.

Silverlight 4 will extend Silverlight’s reach well into the client desktop and will include the ability to print as well as read and write to the My ­Documents, My Pictures, My Music and My Videos folders. Silverlight 4 also can access installed programs such as Microsoft Excel and interact with system ­hardware such as the camera, microphone, and keyboard.

5. How do I start developing Silverlight applications?

Silverlight applications are coded in XAML and created using VS 2008/2010, Microsoft Expression Studio, or the free Microsoft Visual Web Developer. You can download the Silverlight runtime, Silverlight development tools, and guides at the Silverlight website.