Is Silverlight a Flash competitor or an Ajax play?

On the road to MIX, every blog post and news tidbit should be taken with a grain of salt. The only thing we have for tangible Silverlight news came out of NAB, a conference that focuses on video. So the full story isn't there yet, but looking at how things stand before MIX, I think Silverlight looks a lot more like an enhancement to Ajax than a true competitor to Flash.

Quick clarification. Flash and Silverlight are obviously competitors when it comes to videos and general features (vector graphics, animation, ect) but the point of the post is more to think about the next step in the value chain. For Flash, that seems to be building rich applications with Flex. For Silverlight, Ajax seems to be the way to add more value. Just trying to clarify the title.

On the road to MIX, every blog post and news tidbit should be taken with a grain of salt. The only thing we have for tangible Silverlight news came out of NAB, a conference that focuses on video. So the full story isn't there yet, but looking at how things stand before MIX, I think Silverlight looks a lot more like an enhancement to Ajax than a true competitor to Flash.


 
 

Image Gallery:

The Dawn of Microsoft's Silverlight

Screenshots of Microsoft's Silverlight plugin and the applications that have been built on top of the runtime so far in the Silverlight gallery.

 

 
For one thing, the technologies are very, very different. Flash compiles down into a binary, which means it can stream and give you things like progress events as the runtime fires up. Silverlight on the other hand, is just text files, so the runtime has to go from zero to hero before you can do anything. Furthermore, Flash has a ton of functionality encapsulated in the runtime. It has its own JIT compiler, its own scripting language, and a healthy set of controls. Silverlight (as it stands now) uses JavaScript as the scripting language and depends on the browser for most of the interaction processing.

When you use the Flex framework, you can create real, desktop-like applications. Take a look at sites like Fauxto, Scrapblog and Picnik. Those are rich, powerful applications running in a browser and are much closer to full desktop applications than they are to Ajax applications. Silverlight doesn't have anything like that right now. Dave Wolf from Cynergy, a big RIA consulting company, was excited about Silverlight but had this to say:

Today Flex represents a significant portion of the dozens of RIA development projects we are working on with Ajax coming in behind it. Silverlight, for now, does not have the muscle or ability to deliver the kinds of incredible RIA’s we are building with Flex, but do not discount Silverlight moving forward.

Silverlight
Dave's post is a good read because he is coming at it from the standpoint of a company that wants to build Rich Internet Applications for clients. He has a lot of praise for what Silverlight represents, Microsoft's entrance into the RIA world, but understands the shortcomings. So what's the time frame?

Silverlight integrates very well with Ajax and JavaScript. You can create an Ajax application, throw in some XAML and render animations, video and vector graphics easily without modifying your development environment or having to worry about scripting across languages and compilers - Silverlight just uses the browser's. So Silverlight looks like a very compelling sister technology to Ajax, ESPECIALLY Microsoft's own ASP.NET AJAX, which seems to be doing well in the Web 2.0 world.

Right now I'm left wondering if Microsoft's RIA strategy consists of a combination of ASP.NET AJAX and Silverlight. If so, we won't be seeing full desktop like applications from that side any time soon. But if we get to MIX and start talking about including parts of the CLR in Silverlight, then this story gets a bit more interesting.

Newsletters

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
See All
See All