The death of Silverlight has been greatly exaggerated

The death of Silverlight has been greatly exaggerated

Summary: Microsoft's Bob Muglia unwittingly threw a spanner in the Silverlight works at last week's Professional Developers Conference by telling ZD Net's All Things Microsoft blogger Mary-Jo Foley that:"when it comes to touting Silverlight as Microsoft's vehicle for delivering a cross-platform runtime, 'our strategy has shifted,' Muglia told me. Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, working on a variety of operating system/browser platforms, going forward, he said.

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TOPICS: Tech Industry
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Microsoft's Bob Muglia unwittingly threw a spanner in the Silverlight works at last week's Professional Developers Conference by telling ZD Net's All Things Microsoft blogger Mary-Jo Foley that:

"when it comes to touting Silverlight as Microsoft's vehicle for delivering a cross-platform runtime, 'our strategy has shifted,' Muglia told me. Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, working on a variety of operating system/browser platforms, going forward, he said. 'But HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including (Apple's) iOS platform,' Muglia said."

Muglia has now posted an explanation on the Silverlight blog under PDC and Silverlight, saying: "I understand that what I said surprised people and caused controversy and confusion. As this certainly wasn't my intent, I want to apologize for that." He then states Silverlight's position in terms that make it clear that Microsoft's Silverlight strategy hasn't actually changed much, if at all.

Silverlight is still Microsoft's cross-browser and cross-platform for delivering rich Internet applications (RIAs) on Windows and Mac*. It is still a core application development platform for Windows, and it's still the development platform for Windows Phone 7. It's still the Microsoft way of delivering streaming media, both with and without content protection. However, the world has changed. As Muglia says:

"When we started Silverlight, the number of unique/different Internet-connected devices in the world was relatively small, and our goal was to provide the most consistent, richest experience across those devices. But the world has changed. As a result, getting a single runtime implementation installed on every potential device is practically impossible. We think HTML will provide the broadest, cross-platform reach across all these devices. At Microsoft, we're committed to building the world's best implementation of HTML 5 for devices running Windows, and at the PDC, we showed the great progress we're making on this with IE 9."

Muglia doesn't say this, but Apple's iOS has obviously emerged as a new force on the iPhone and iPad, and it's a closed proprietary system. Since Apple is preventing Adobe Flash from running on its platform (unless you jailbreak devices), there is no chance that Apple will allow Silverlight. Even if it did, that would enable apps developed for Windows Phone 7 to run on the iPhone as well. This is not in Microsoft's interests.

HTML5 must therefore represent a broader cross-platform solution than Silverlight, but this doesn't necessarily make Silverlight less important to Microsoft. Indeed, it could make Silverlight more important.

Silverlight is more powerful than HTML5, and it's wedded to Microsoft's software development systems, and to its Windows Phone 7 plans. Silverlight is therefore the way to provide applications that are unique and differentiated, whereas HTML5 sites will be (or should be) equally accessible to all.

As Muglia says in his blog post:

The purpose of Silverlight has never been to replace HTML, but rather to do the things that HTML (and other technologies) can't, and to do so in a way that's easy for developers to use. Silverlight enables great client app and media experiences. It's now installed on two-thirds of the world's computers, and more than 600,000 developers currently build software using it. Make no mistake; we'll continue to invest in Silverlight and enable developers to build great apps and experiences with it in the future.

Quite. Microsoft didn't back Silverlight as a way of replacing HTML but to replace some "other technologies" not named, such as Adobe Flash, Flex and AIR. And I suspect that Microsoft's backroom analysts could well have been thinking that while their strong but more or less obligatory support for HTML5 might hurt Silverlight somewhat, it was likely to hurt Adobe more.

* Moonlight is an independent open source implementation of Silverlight, "primarily for Linux and other Unix/X11 based operating systems". There's also a packaged version to run as a Firefox browser extension.

Topic: Tech Industry

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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8 comments
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  • Silverlight is not 100% cross platform compatible. Moonlight is an attempt to provide Silverlight functionality, but it is not 100% compatible with Silverlight. Since Microsoft continues to leave Silverlight source closed to the general public, I don't see how it could ever be completely cross platform, unless Microsoft actually compiles the binaries themselves. I just don't see that happening. There are plenty of sites that simply do not work with Moonlight, Netflix being one that in my opinion should have never used Silverlight to begin with.
    Chris_Clay
  • Even the MSBBC, normally so reliably on message where Microsoft is concerned, has picked up on this one.

    "Developers described themselves as "betrayed", "disappointed" and "demoralised" by the decision."

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11673384
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • The "MSBBC"? I can't see where you get that, BrownieBoy. The BBC appears to report every move that Apple and Google make, but MS (by comparison) barely gets a look in. At best, I'd call them balanced but I'd certainly never accusing the BBC of being pro-Microsoft.
    ewan-7884f
  • @apexwm
    > Silverlight is not 100% cross platform compatible. Moonlight is an attempt to
    > provide Silverlight functionality, but it is not 100% compatible with Silverlight.

    If Silverlight works on Windows, that covers 90% of the PC market. If it works on Macs, that's another 5%. After that, there are diminishing returns. If you were Microsoft, what would you be spending your money on?
    Jack Schofield
  • Jack:

    If I were Microsoft, I'd guarantee that my technology was truly cross platform, rather than trying to lock in customers and ignore the minorities. I'd follow the footsteps of Adobe and Sun (Oracle) where Flash and Java respectively have been released for years for each of the major platforms, that are truly 100% cross platform compatible.
    Chris_Clay
  • @apexwm
    > If I were Microsoft, I'd guarantee that my technology was truly cross platform
    There's a sizeable part of the Linux community that wants nothing to do with Silverlight or Mono or any other Microsoft stuff. The status of Microsoft patents that may be lurking in those products is far from clear.
    BrownieBoy-4ea41
  • these are old posts, but i can't help but take a swing. silverlight is grossly important for enterprise development. we get so caught up on cellophane that we forget where the vast majority of apps are built and maintained. being able to incorporate c# w/ rich client web apps is a must for enterprise. silverlight 4 is the real deal and holds up to what we need in this space. apple / flash aren't even on the grid. silverlight must continue to grow past what news reading train riders need.
    mydasx
  • @ewan

    Don't feed the troll.

    @mydasx

    Thanks for the comment! Fact of life is that, as far as I can see, most of the people who argue about Silverlight don't have much of a clue what it is or what it does. Not that they need to. In many cases, their only purpose is to say how evil Microsoft is ;-)
    Jack Schofield