Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

Summary: Should Web developers target Internet Explorer 9 or Silverlight when creating new Web and mobile applications? One Microsoft exec takes a new stab at an answer.


At Microsoft's Mix '10 conference in March, where Microsoft took the wraps off its HTML 5 vision for Internet Explorer 9, there were a lot of questions about the future for Silverlight.

Six months later -- and one new version of Silverlight (version 4, released in April) later, those questions still persist. Should Web developers target Internet Explorer 9 or Silverlight when creating new Web and mobile applications?

Microsoft hasn't issued any kind of white paper or definitive guidance. The official IE executive positioning has been HTML 5 is the future of the Web -- but Silverlight's not dead (yet). This week, however, the Silverlight team finally stepped up to the plate to defend the future of that platform.

Brad Becker, Director of Product Management, Developer Platforms, took the bull by the horns with a post entitled "The Future of Silverlight" on the Silverlight Team Blog. Becker repeated the party line that HTML 5 is nowhere near done and is a standard in flux. But he also made the case that Silverlight is the right solution for developers looking to create premium media content, as well as content/apps that can run on multiple platforms.

There is still confusion/overlap around business/enterprise apps and consumer apps. Should a Microsoft-centric developer target IE or Silverlight in those cases? Becker's answer seems to be that it's up to programmers and they should go with the platform to which they're most comfortable coding.

I'm hoping Microsoft is prepping some kind of more definitive guidance for developers as to when to target Silverlight vs. when to target IE/HTML 5. (Given how often I'm asked by developers what Microsoft's stance is here, I bet a white paper or cheat sheet would be welcome.) Maybe once the Softies are ready to talk about Silverlight 5 Microsoft will have figured out its own positioning and politics...

Topics: Browser, Microsoft, Software Development


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • If you just want to play unprotected video content HTML5 is ok

    If you want anything even slightly more sophisticated like multicast, drm, smoothstreaming, a nice high performance client experience, etc. then Silverlight is the best solution for the web today. flash just cant compete anymore...
    Johnny Vegas
    • Just watch that 'HTML5 as a platform' nonsense flops

      @Johnny Vegas <br><br>Any time I hear someone mentioning H5 as platform, I know the guy must have too little serious Web App development experience to understand H5/Javascript as a presentation layer only (and pretty inadequate at it) doesn't fit in a 3-tier environment.

      SilverLight + .Net is the best combo there is to build future Web Apps. H5 is a light year behind no matter how much hype they throw around.
      • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

        @LBiege <br><br>My requirements are for sophisticated interaction, sequential display of text and graphics and synchronised audio and video as my company develops eLearning.<br><br>The only methods we had previously to reproduce the Windows desktop eLearning on the Web was through Flash or Java. As browsers improved, we developed an eLearning player using HTML/XML and Javascript with the help of various media players such as Flash and Windows Media Player. Javascript libraries such as EXT-JS, allowed us to add special effects and graphic primitives.<br><br>However, we are still stuck with selecting a format for media. If I use WMP for audio and video, it will work on IE as well as FF, Chrome etc as well as Safari on the Mac - if they have the appropriate plug-ins. If I go with Flash for audio/video then it won't work on the iToys. If we choose H264 video and mp3 audio, it will work if the user has Flash or a working HTML 5 implementation or if WMP has the appropriate codec downloaded. Naturally we have to do detection and conditional code.<br><br>HTML 5 does seem to offer what we need (although we will also have to support all the older browsers) but Apple's current implementation doesn't want you to have control of the .load and .play for the video and audio tags, which makes it hard to synchronise audio and sequential text display. Yes, there is a way around it, but knowing Apple they'll keep trying. <br><br>However, this is all at the presentation layer <img border="0" src="" alt="wink"> At the moment, I'd go with Silverlight and .Net for web application development.
      • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

        @LBiege i completely agree. Adobe has had 99.9% market penetration for years now and just got complacent. Silverlight has a very real chance of completely replacing Flash, unlike HTML5.

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    • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

      @Johnny Vegas

      i completely agree. Adobe has had 99.9% market penetration for years now and just got complacent. Silverlight has a very real chance of completely replacing Flash, unlike HTML5.
      • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

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    • MJ had over reacted on her talk with bob muglia on her last post on SL

      @Johnny Vegas

      Leave it, I feel MJ had clearly over reacted on her conversation with bob muglia from Microsoft on PDC, her news had gone viral on SL all over web in the last 2-3 days.

      MJ - I feel, you shoud've been a responsible person in writing such topic, based on just a one-one conversation.

      The SL Team blog you've referred was posted on Sep 2nd, didnt' you know that already before spiraling the viral news few days back.
      • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

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    • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

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    • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

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  • WPF & ASP.NET could both potentially output HTML5...

    That means Silverlight's objective would stand as a lightweight UI framework for MS specific mobile devices. I am sure with a little evolution, WPF could be 'partitioned' to effect the same (a lightweight mobile component 'switchable' with a heavyweight desktop component) thus making Silverlight obsolete, I mean 'converged'.
    • WPF & ASP.NET could both potentially output HTML5...

      Or it might be the other way around. Silverlight might make WPF obsolete....
  • Why?

    I don't think there is a good understanding of the siuation. To be clear, Silverlight is not just for a media player. SL is a platform that you can write any kind of applications on. As matter of fact, 99% of what people are doing with SL is not playing video.

    I don't see where is the argument?
    • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

      @jk_10 Agreed. Everybody seems to think the discussion is about "video" when it's really about RIA and applications that HTML5 really can't compete with both public on the internet and in enterprises.
  • The thing that bugs me about this entire discussion...

    Are the tacit assumptions being made. Like during the Flash vs iPhone/iPad arguments. Apple's stand is that HTML5 is good enough because you can have embedded video in it. Which is fine and good if that's the ONLY thing people did with Flash - but it isn't.<br><br>In the end, regardless of how spiffy HTML5 ends up (and let's not forget, it's not even a defined standard yet - it's still being cooked up), unless it includes pretty much the entirety of something like .Net or Flash, it's going to have limits on what you can do with it - and people will want to do more. <br><br>Telling them 'you shouldn't because the HTML5 standard can't handle it' is silly. A standard is only useful if it allows the adopter to do what they need to do and in the end, flexible systems like Silverlight and Flash are always going to have the advantage because their creators can jump faster then the W3C can.
  • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

    silverlight is .net in the browser, which is so powerful to developers. It's so easy to build a very powerful, very sophisticated application very quickly. It's just not possible in HTML, even 5. The binding and validation alone is so tremendous. The new parrallel extensions in 4 are way ahead the raw threading that is offered in ECMAScript next (if it even makes it). And to developers, the debugger/stepping into power of silverlight teamed with VS dominates the capabilities of any script debugger. Finally, it turns out silverlight is a better standard across browser versions and types then HTML could possibly be. so many businesses are still on XP/IE6, and won't leave anytime soon, silverlight is a beautiful way to get cross-browser (version and maker) compatability. In fact it'd probably be easier to implment a silverlight runtime for a non-compatible browser than it would be to make your HTML application work in all browsers.

    Where HTML dominates is in this new world of locked down mobile devices. Not having silverlight on my iPad sucks. If i need to target those people, then clearly my choice is HTML. But my silverlight client is gonna be way more powerful than my bare bones HTML5 client would be.

    The other funny thing to think about is how iOS version 1's "apps" were HTML based. They even did a special conference early on to pimp how HTML apps were plenty powerful and native apps for iOS were just not needed. Imagine if they hadn't revamped that stance...where would the iphone be now? Stability and rich features/capabilities is what makes a great platform. Right now Silverlight is the best.
  • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

    This article misunderstands the technology. Silverlight and HTML5 are completely different, with some overlap in terms of functionality. Developers can do things with Silverlight that we could only dream of doing with HTML or the nascent browser. Even where there is overlap, Silverlight offers significant advantages ranging from easier development to superior performance and cross-platform consistency. It's a red herring to suggest that developers must choose one or the other. Plugins bridge the gap between what the native browser can do and the next-gen experience that most users expect.
    Tim Acheson
    • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

      @Tim Acheson

      i remember having this discussion on another forum over all the things HTML5 cant do. and as the list was being put together, someone goes, "but all that will be added in HTML6"!! i just couldnt believe he said that. how are developers supposed to wait years for these standards to be made? they need the tools for the job today! overall, im glad Flash wont be used for video playback anymore. but people saying HTML5 has completely replaced the need for plugins are just being clueless.
  • RE: Microsoft: Silverlight still has a future in an HTML 5 world

    I am a development shop of one. I can't choke down too many "standards". SL makes tons of sense for me because I come from a LOB app development background and I need that power and the fabulous tools. But...<br><br>Since there is only one of me (thank God) and since whatever I develop is going to eventually end up with a mobile component, not having SL on the iPhone or the Android platforms means making a choice: either my apps don't go there or I have to learn a whole new set of tools (barf).<br><br>HTML was never intended to be a language and is now the biggest "standards" hoax ever perpetrated on new developers who don't know any better. <br><br>H-T-M-L B-L-O-W-S (sorry)