Microsoft favoring HTML5 over Silverlight: reports

Microsoft nods to HTML5 standard for rich client development.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

Competition in the front end, Rich Internet Application space has really been getting intense, but there appears to be some solidifying behind one of the emerging standards.

Reports are abounding across the news channels and the blogosphere that Microsoft is shifting its emphasis away from its own Silverlight rich client environment in favor of HTML5.  HTML5 received a major boost earlier this year from Apple, which famously specified the standard as the preferred rich client platform for the iPad and iPhone over Adobe Flash.

The story was broken by ZDNet colleague Mary Jo Foley, who did some content analysis on the talk coming out of the Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference (PDC) and observed there was plenty of discussion about HTML 5 support, but nary a mention of Silverlight.

She spoke with Bob Muglia, the Microsoft President in charge of the company’s server and tools business, about the perceived shift and found it to be more than perception: While Silverlight will continue to be the development platform for the Windows Phone, Microsoft's cross-platform strategy will favor HTML5:

"Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, working on a variety of operating system/browser platforms, going forward. But HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including (Apple’s) iOS platform."

Microsoft hinted at deeper HTML5 support earlier this year. ZDNet's Ed Bott reported in May how Microsoft’s Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of the Internet Explorer division, said straight out that "the future of the Web is HTML5."

HTML5 is still at Working Draft stage within the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standards body, and the emerging standard is intended for structuring and presenting content on the World Wide Web, and incorporating features such as video playback and drag-and-drop, also provided by third-party browser plug-ins such as Silverlight and Flash.

As more of the emphasis on application development and configuration shifts to the end user (witness the growth of enterprise mashups), and end users demand more mobile access, rich clients are going to be an important market battleground. Of course, Flash and Silverlight aren't going away anytime soon -- applications already written to these environments would have to be rewritten to support HTML5. Who has time for that?

UPDATE 1-Nov: Mary Jo Foley reports that Microsoft's Muglia confirmed that HTML is a cross-platform strategy for the company, but will continue to build Silverlight into its Windows Phone and embedded devices. Muglia also states, however, that "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."

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