Moonlight 1.0 hamstrung in Catch-22

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.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

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.

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