Mobile // Mobile Applications
Commentary
6/27/2010
09:44 PM
Dave Methvin
Dave Methvin
Commentary
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Is Silverlight A Dead End?

When Microsoft released Silverlight in 2007, it was widely seen as an attack on Adobe's Flash player. Silverlight has come a long way since then, adding lots of features in version 4.0 that was just released in April. One thing that it hasn't done, though, is kill Flash. If anything, the predator is now suffering from friendly fire at the hands of its own company.

When Microsoft released Silverlight in 2007, it was widely seen as an attack on Adobe's Flash player. Silverlight has come a long way since then, adding lots of features in version 4.0 that was just released in April. One thing that it hasn't done, though, is kill Flash. If anything, the predator is now suffering from friendly fire at the hands of its own company.Both Flash and Silverlight seem to be getting toasty; Flash has suffered its own trials and tribulations. A web site that has a Flash intro is now the sign of a technology-tone-deaf company, unless it's an entertainment site. Plus, both are finding themselves shut out of mainstream mobile app development; Apple banned Flash from the iPhone/iPad and Microsoft didn't even try to deliver an iPhone version of Silverlight.

Microsoft's original spin on Silverlight was that it "provides enhanced Web audio and video streaming and playback." That's still front-and-center with Silverlight 4.0, including delivery of DRM-protected content in dedicated devices. So Microsoft is certainly realistic about what people really do with Silverlight -- most of the time it's just being used as a video player. Video playback is a common use for Flash as well, but at least Flash has a decent-sized installed base of non-video-player applications.

Both Flash and Silverlight are suffering at the hands of web standards like HTML5 and Javascript. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Opera are continuing to deliver on standards in their releases. But the most important change since 2007 is that Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 is (finally) going all-in on web standards. That is going to kill the last reason to use Silverlight on a desktop browser. (Add to that the problem that Silverlight apps are not search-engine friendly, so your content can't be found by Google or Bing searchers.) In a world where the browser supports a <video> tag, even the support-role of video player is threatened.

Ultimately, it seems like Silverlight is destined to become a niche product. Microsoft plans to use it for Windows Phone 7 development, so it's not going to disappear. Yet it's very unlikely that Silverlight will (or should) be used for developing Internet web sites.

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