Analyst: Silverlight still needs more developers

Microsoft's exclusive content deals for Web platform are step in right direction but must still court more developers to achieve ubiquity, says Forrester analyst.
Written by Victoria Ho, Contributor on

Microsoft needs to build developer mindshare, on top of its efforts to establish exclusive content deals, to fulfill ambition for Silverlight to achieve Web ubiquity, says an industry analyst.

Ron Rogowski, principal analyst with Forrester Research, told ZDNet Asia the Web platform, launched in 2007 is still "playing catch up" to competing media browser plug-in, Adobe Flash.

Microsoft has brokered a number of content deals to boost Silverlight adoption, such as a tie up with SingTel in Singapore for its Formula One campaign site and NBC's 2008 Olympic Games Web coverage.

Rogowski said these exclusive content deals have been a step in the right direction, but Microsoft must also concentrate on having a solid install base and mass developer commitment to succeed.

"It's one thing to download a player to watch video of Olympic events, but it's quite another to [be forced to] download a plug-in while shopping online when you could easily go to a competitor," he said.

He added that online users need to be prompted to download and use Silverlight either through an exclusive site they want to visit, or because they are repeatedly prompted by numerous Silverlight-enabled sites.

According to Stat Owl analytics, the Microsoft platform is present on 39 percent of user systems globally, as of December 2009. In comparison, Flash adoption stood at 96 percent during the same timeframe.

An Ovum analyst in 2008 noted that Silverlight was handicapped because it was still new and unproven. Adobe was leading the market then, and had a ready base of developers and users familiar with the platform, he added.

Rogowski said Silverlight today still faces the same chicken-and-egg problem in its efforts to court a sufficient developer base.

"Users need to be exposed to the technology, but developers are reluctant to build sites in a technology that requires a new player that's different from the 'de facto' player," he said, referring to Flash's leading position in the market.

He added that Silverlight does carry additional appeal with features such as deep zoom, but these have to be implemented in ways that will be of value to users.

"Much of Silverlight's future is in the hands of developers who are open to using the best technology available to create the right experiences for their customers," noted Rogowski.

Microsoft touts developer controls
Late last year, Microsoft unveiled Silverlight 4 beta, focusing on extending a more sophisticated set of developer tools to Microsoft-friendly coders familiar with its technologies such as .Net and Visual Studio.

Microsoft Asia-Pacific Web and client strategy lead, Ed Quek, said in an e-mail response to ZDNet Asia, some 500,000 developers worldwide have tried or adopted Silverlight.

Touting Silverlight's developer controls, Quek highlighted examples of Web sites using the platform's capabilities: Korean Web portal, NHN Naver features a map that overlays a real-time Webcam traffic feed, and MTV Australia used the platform to run a live interview stream.

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