Microsoft Releases Silverlight Beta Client for Facebook

In early 2009 a very large portion of my day was consumed by checking Facebook for wall posts, private messages, event invites, friend requests, and photo tags. I had a huge group of friends and frequently hosted parties with 100 people or more so I felt obligated to stay on top of it.

I went out searching for a desktop application to run Facebook so I didn’t have to constantly navigate my browser to the home page. I figured I’d probably save more than an hour a day if I could just be alerted when something happened instead.

The best I could find was the Facebook Toolbar. At the time it was very buggy and only gave me info that I didn’t care about, like how many group invitations and app recommendations I had. On top of that it only updated its numbers about once every 10 minutes, and that delay alone was a deal-breaker.

Soon Fishbowl was released, running on Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. I was thrilled at the thought that I no longer needed my browser to use Facebook and even more excited about an attractive new interface. I imagined the desktop app becoming a huge hit until I used it a bit and realized how much it was lacking. It used a ton of RAM, had very quirky window navigation and controls, and lacked much of what I needed from Facebook, like the ability to view and create events. It was fun to impress my friends with a Facebook toy they’d never seen but aside from that I abandoned it immedately.

Then in April Facebook developed its own desktop application called Facebook For Adobe Air (note that it requires Adobe Air to be installed first). I liked that this app was much less resource intensive than fishbowl and could sit beside my browser window as a tall slender bar on the side of my screen. At some point I changed my monitor resolution temporarily, which moved the Air window out of view. When I restored my resolution I could not get FB for Air to appear again. It was still running but there was no way to get it into view, even after uninstalling and reinstalling it and Adobe Air itself. So much for that.

Then just a week ago Microsoft released a beta development of the new Microsoft Silverlight 4 Beta Client for Facebook (note it requires that Silverlight 4 Beta be installed first). The first thing you’ll notice is a brand new, dark and sexy interface. It doesn’t look like Facebook at all, and that’s exciting. It’s simple, fast and fun to explore. It finally lists upcoming events, though viewing the event still requires a browser window to be opened. When you’re reading a conversation in the inbox you can see the person’s lifestream in the right hand pane. It allows you to quickly scroll way back into wall post histories; actually I’m very impressed by this. It seems to be aggregating stories much faster than Facebook itself does in a browser. And it has a cool photo album explorer.

But it still lacks support for my mouse’s back button and keyboard shortcuts, its scrolling lags like it always has in IE, it doesn’t support apps, and its photo viewer doesn’t wow me as much as Cooliris. On top of that it’s using as much as 320 MB of RAM in Windows Vista.

While I do appreciate that MS is presenting the same old FB pictures and stories in a unique new way to bring some excitement back into the experience, I don’t think I’ll be using this desktop client for much other than novelty when showing it off to friends.

Fortunately the new Facebook App for the iPhone finally, as of a couple weeks ago, pushes notifications so I now know exactly when Facebook needs me.