Moonlight 1.0 hamstrung in Catch-22

Moonlight 1.0 hamstrung in Catch-22

Summary: Little wonder these RIA on Linux discussions make me feel icky, as we can dial in at least another two years of proprietary plug-ins dominating on open-source desktops.


Novell yesterday announced the official release of Moonlight 1.0, a project to bring Microsoft's Silverlight runtime to Linux — but can the project ever catch Microsoft's shadow?

Moonlight 1.0 was actually available on US President Obama's Inauguration Day, but before everyone runs off and starts to attempt to view Photosynth and DeepZoom Silverlight applications, be aware that Moonlight 1.0 is an analog of Silverlight 1.0; all the glitzy Silverlight demonstrations of recent months will not work.

Basically, all Moonlight 1.0 is good for is viewing online video implemented in Silverlight 1.0.

Silverlight 1.0 was released in September 2007, which puts Moonlight at almost 18 months behind Microsoft's development; and herein lies the problem I see for Silverlight/Moonlight compared to Flash on Linux.

Warning: don your asbestos suits kids, it's time to go wading in the Rich Internet Application (RIA) pool.

Whenever Flash and Silverlight come up in the same conversation as open
source, I always end up feeling icky. (Asbestos image by Erich Ferdinand, CC2.0)

On the one hand there is Flash, the dominate RIA player that has been treating Linux better and better over time, but is still utterly proprietary in nature. Of course, the community is generally happy to grin and bear it. In the other corner is Silverlight, the young upstart from Redmond that has had some flirtation with open source yet can invoke feelings of intense hatred.

To my mind it is clearly the Microsoft connection that produces the pillorying towards Silverlight. Open-sourcing segments of Silverlight/.NET cannot soothe the entrenched anti-Redmond opinions held by FOSS supporters.

As Mono, and consequently Moonlight, are unabashedly following in Microsoft's footsteps and aspiring to be everything that the .NET CLR is on Windows platforms, by extension they then become the target of anti-Microsoft abuse.

LinuxToday recently asked why Moonlight's parent project Mono was regarded as evil and came to the conclusion that it could be the technological perception of the project. Mono project founder and Novell VP Miguel de Icaza is positively giddy over Silverlight:

Silverlight 3 is so awesome, I am having trouble not talking about it! I had to take Valium to calm down.

Meanwhile, Flash is something that needs to work in order to experience the modern web properly, regardless of one's ideals on open source software. In practical terms, while Adobe does not go back into its past bad form and neglect Linux, the majority of users will be satisfied. Developers and users in the unsatisfied minority are more than welcome to contribute to creating an open-source Flash player alternative.

Moonlight exists in this Catch-22 state whereby it is open source but has to rely on Microsoft codes/feature planning, thereby drawing the ire of some members of the Linux community. It's a shame that such attitudes exist. The idea of packing a .NET CLR into a browser plug-in is a powerful idea as Moonlight steams towards Moonlight 2.0.

The current roadmap for the project states that Moonlight 2.0 should be out by September 2009, which would then put Moonlight 12 months behind Silverlight. Based on that trajectory, the laggard Moonlight would catch up to Silverlight sometime around 2011. That makes Silverlight/Moonlight an equal competitor with Flash on Linux browsers in two years time.

Little wonder these RIA on Linux discussions make me feel icky, as we can dial in at least another two years of proprietary plug-ins dominating on open-source desktops.

Topics: Open Source, Enterprise Software, Software Development


Chris started his journalistic adventure in 2006 as the Editor of Builder AU after originally joining CBS as a programmer. After a Canadian sojourn, he returned in 2011 as the Editor of TechRepublic Australia, and is now the Australian Editor of ZDNet.

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  • Feeder Technologies

    "That makes Silverlight/Moonlight an equal competitor with Flash on Linux browsers in two years time."

    Lets hope flash doesn't stand still for two years. We can also fully expect Microsoft to keep moving the goal posts until they descend into their usual security/dll muddle that requires the creation of something new.

    Part of the angst in the FOSS community over things like Mono may be (apart from patents) the threat that technologies such as these are feeders back into the Microsoft fold. While I am still happy with C#1.1 and notepad++ under dotnet or mono - those wanting a more contemporary experience are forced back to Microsoft. And while I have not yet found anything that I can't do with 1.1 and 3rd party libraries try explaining the evil of partial classes and broken design models to a recruitment agent.
  • "Dominate"

    Try dominant.

    There is just no excuse for such poor quality writing.
  • helping a company caught in microsoft "lock-in"

    If I'm trying to reduce costs at an organisation with .NET based web applications, could I use Mono and Moonlight to migrate them off the Microsoft platforms to save them some money?

    Is anyone out there able to share their experience?
  • Anonymous Critic

    It's a blog. Blogs don't have editors smart guy. Sometimes things fall through the cracks, especially when you are doing the proof reading yourself.

    Definitely point out the errors where you see them – that helps the author – but to suggest there is no excuse... Well, I just call that stupid.
  • Legal aspects

    I think one very valid question for ZD to sort out is the legal issue of which linux OS's are licenced download and run the moonlight code and Mono for that matter. I heard it was just Suse linux. If that is correct MS would do well to clarify this so there is not subtle traps in ther. Perhaps you guys could help ensure that MS is going to allow and Linus OS access to SL/CLR technology via moonlight / mono.
  • Saving money?

    What's the point? You don't pay for the .NET framework anyway.
  • A whole lot of "hoo haa"

    Linux runs (apparently) on less than 1% of computers globally. So what if Moonlight isn't up to scratch. My Silverlight apps will still run on over 99% of the world's computers.