Moonlight's Olympic-sized failure

Moonlight's Olympic-sized failure

Summary: If there's a jewel in the crown of Silverlight, it has to be video coverage of the Olympics.


If there's a jewel in the crown of Silverlight, it has to be video coverage of the Olympics.

Every couple of years, Microsoft and its partners get to show off what the technology is capable of and push the limits of live video coverage. This year, the plethora of Canadian channels covering the Olympics were all available live from one website, and the experience was terrific.

Thanks to a sometimes flaky wireless connection, I was ever thankful for Silverlight's adaptive streaming; and most impressively, the Tivo-like ability to watch live, rewind to a missed moment, and return to live coverage at the click of a button. Another great feature was the archiving and marking of events, meaning that a viewer could go to a video and easily find the medal winning performances.

Unless you were using Linux that is.

As history shows, Microsoft only produces the Silverlight runtime for Windows and OS X, leaving Linux support to Novell's Mono project, which produces Moonlight. Mono developers argue that Mono is not chasing tail lights, but in the case of Moonlight it very clearly is.

The Olympics player made use of Silverlight 3.0, which was available from mid-2009. Moonlight on the other hand is only stable up to Silverlight 2 (first released in late 2008) and only offers Silverlight 3 support as a 3.0 preview release.

Moonlight 2 users were prompted to install the 3.0 preview release when attempting to view a stream, but all was not well. With the initial 3.0 preview, sometimes the player would appear, and sometimes not. And when it did appear, all that occurred was the spinning of a loading icon (see screenshot below).

Moonlight Screenshot

Trying to view an Olympics stream using Moonlight
(Screenshot by Chris Duckett)

It took until four days later, on the second update to the 3.0 preview, for Moonlight users to be able to stream video correctly — except now the volume and full-screen buttons rendered off-screen. Of course by that time, I had written off using Moonlight, and had settled into watching the Olympics courtesy of Windows or OS X.

There were other such failures throughout the site that resulted in an overall very frustrating experience and not one to recommend at all. In comparison, watching the opening and closing ceremonies in HD on an iMac was far better than watching it via the analog TV option.

With all these problems, it is clear that Moonlight is not up to scratch; thank goodness Flash videos have less Linux issues and HTML5 video is (hopefully) coming. For a company that has $991 million in cash (PDF), I'd have hoped that Novell would back Moonlight to have it ready in time for the Olympics showcase, but alas.

To rub more timely salt into the wounds, Chrome support for Moonlight appeared on Friday — better late than never.

Topic: Operating Systems


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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  • They got the "moon" part right.

    Linux viewers just got a big fat moon from Steve Ballmer.

    So as a Linux user am I supposed to go running back to Microsoft just to view videos streaming in Silverlight? Not on your life. I've known peace for too long with Linux. I don't have to wonder what's going on with my computer. Nothing is hidden from me. I don't need anti malware applications gumming things up. Not now and not when 90% of the desktops are running GNU/Linux. I don't need Silverlight and I sure as hell don't need or want Moonlight.
  • Epic fail

    Mono/Moonlight/Silverlie is an epic failure. Good job too, because it is a trojan horse of epic proportions.
  • Silverlight definitely not a universal standard

    It should also be added that it's not just Linux users who are left out, but older WinPCs and non-Intel Macs have limited to no SL support either. Silverlight is just another MS walled-garden endeavor, a typical example of vendor lock-in. All the Silverlight fans, smugly praise it's advanced video features but oddly ignore the fact that diversity is the real key to innovation. HTML5 has all the potential to bring real changes and improvements to everybody's online experience. Dumping all the current, ignorant copyrighted technologies would be a major step to making the Internet a much more robust entity. I doubt the first step will be taken by the U.S., even though we blindly tout ourselves as the kings of all innovation, actually we're still terrified of the metric system. (No need to divert the topic to health care, but it's hard to ignore some parallels.)
  • Why Flash is still king

    It has the biggest penetration of installs across devices for video. Silverlight is too Microsoft focused to use for general population consumption. HTML 5 assumes people know how to upgrade their browsers.

    In short, Microsoft's IE legacy and people's general inability to upgrade will mean Flash has a few years left in it as a platform of choice.

    Of course, the cool kids on the Web will beg to differ but in real user terms, Flash video is still the safest bet.
  • Lack of support

    Microsoft have never explained why they don't port Silverlight to Linux, after all they port it to the current Mac OS (which is unix) so why not Linux? Adobe port Flash and Acrobat to Linux and feel that its worth it, so why dont Microsoft port their proprietary closed apps?

    Has anyone managed to get a proper answer from Microsoft about why they wont port and leave it to Novell to basically re-implement it from the ground up?

    Most people are assuming that its down to Microsoft's hatred of Linux (that communist cancer that Bill Gates declared a Jihad against)
  • Microsoft and the Mac

    Two reasons Microsoft supports Macs:

    1) Competition. See? We have competition, Mr. Regulator.

    2) Microsoft and Gates have a lot of money invested in Apple.

    However, Microsoft has never hesitated to show how they want everyone to run Windows. F/OSS is fine, if it runs on Windows.

    If MS released any of their products to actually RUN on Linux, it would be an admission that Linux as a "desktop" worked, and that is something up with which they will not put!
  • NBC in USA's failure

    In the USA, NBC Television had an Olympic-sized failure when I wasn't allowed to watch the live nor previously-recorded footage, at all, without also having some sort of Premium Provider account (such as Cable TV or Satellite TV account), which was required (!) for login (with that account) before I could see any footage.

    NCB, you're an OVER-THE-AIR broadcast company. Due to not having a Premium provider, you are one of the FOUR CHANNELS that my televisions receive, meaning you get my eyeballs much more than any other channel. Yet I need to pay someone else to see your footage?

  • Don't worry Chris, support is on the way.

    If IDC/Microsoft's numbers of desktop OS usage are to be believed, then 623 (7 x 89) people, as of this comment, will be posting comments in Moonlight/Silverlight's favor.
  • Not a Mystery

    The fact that is was near impossible for anyone using a Linux distribution to watch the coverage is not much of a surprise. This was a push for MS Windows and Silverlight. OS X is irrelevant in this matter. Microsoft=Silverlight=Novell=MONO=Moonlight. Where is the surprise? Moonlight will never be up to par with Silverlight because that is the way MS wants it. This is not rocket science. Silverlight and Moonlight should die because they cannot and should not be the standard for web video. Microsoft did succeed in doing what it set out to do and that is making everybody settle for what they will give you. A case in point, notice the statement of Chris Duckett, " had settled into watching the Olympics courtesy of Windows or OS X." Even the OS X viewing was courtesy of Microsoft. So Chris it looks like you owe them. You are now locked in. You will use whatever you need to use to get your fix. I really hope that you can get treatment for the cancer that is Microsoft/Silverlight/Novell/MONO/Moonlight.
  • M$ and $Mac

    These two closed-source companies have struck a faustien [sic] bargain with each other to keep the regulators at bay. Apple skims the high margin premium crowd at about 10% market share and leaves the mass market to MS. It has been ironic how both are desperately trying to lock up content and content delivery paths and it may yet ruin both of them, but for if they'd just stuck to delivering their core products, which were; a tight, premium-branded, vertically-integrated OS and hardware experience for the Mac and a generic OS, and office suite for MS, and making them run well. Both are inferior (now) in stability and power to FOSS OS'es (GNULinux/NetBSD/OpenBSD/Minix/etc), and these OS'es are beginning to exceed these two now in "user experience". Jobs has a major presence in Big Hollywood and wants Apple to lock up the digital movie content delivery channel like iTunes has done for digital music; hence Jobs churlish insistence that iPad won't run Flash. Meanwhile another megalomaniac, Bill Gates wanted to lock down the content delivery and become the gatekeeper with the whole LongHorn "Trusted Computing"/protected media path mess. The main new features of Vista (and Vista 7) besides the eye-candy was the DRM and copy protection stuff underneath; no real focus given to stability and power to the user. Both MS and Apple are now training their guns on the biggest FOSS bee in their bonnets with Apple suing HTC who is making (a superior IMO) smartphone that is Linux-based that will kneecap the walled garden of the iPhone (an Apple cash cow) while MS has sued directly Tom-tom and by proxy propped up SCO, who sues LINUX vendors and users, where again Linux undercuts their own cash cows. The cats out of the bag and FOSS is only going to grow on all its fronts, OS'es, apps, formats the analogy can be applied to roads the forces moving towards a digital commons will have strongholds in the crazy places in the world now where folks reject draconian and regressive IP laws. The best that entrenched corporate interests can do at this point is retard the uptake somewhat using that favorite tool to preserve status quo and slow the public good, so called IP laws.
    Me, I escaped to FOSS OS'es and software some years ago (late 90's) because even though they weren't pretty, once up and running, they were stable and very reliable - plus walled gardens are an anathema and not tolerated in the FOSS world. The free nature didn't hit me till some time later, I was purely seeking high quality and ironically willing to pay for it...but FOSS had it over closed source.
  • Point of view

    Personally I dislike the whole concept of mono and Moonlight however....

    Eventually the pace of development of Silverlight will slow as the technology matures. Microsoft will not want a constantly changing system. Microsoft users do not like constant change, they like a stable (in a feature sense) and predictable system. Moonlight will then be able to catch up.

    To call it an epic fail is hardly relevant. Yes they are playing catch up, but one day in the not too distant future they will catch up. It is still a new and developing technology.
  • Doing it wrong

    Double fail! [sic] means "reproduced verbatim from the original". Are you claiming that you copied your comment from someone else, complete with incorrect spelling of "Faustian"?
  • assumptions, assumptions.....

    If .NET/silverlight get lots of support and mindshare, then the language will evolve rapidly and continuously because technology landscape changes often and there's always things to improve. If the evolution of the technology stops or slow to a crawl so moonlight can catch up basically means that there's no more need for moonlight or silverlight to exist because of the lack of mindshare or usage base. Either way, it's moot for moonlight to exist at all.
  • Mono no catchup patents

    Mono and MoonLight ca not catch up very quickly even a few years after the stability kicks in. Microsoft has all kinds of stuff in .NET that is patented. Moonlight and Mono will be kept at bay for some time longer because of this. Anyway, they suck, we need HTML5.

    Apparently SilverLight is also available on Intel's Moblin. Why going all the trouble over trying to run crapware Mono/Moonlight?
    Run Moblin in a virtual box.