Microsoft still confused about Silverlight's irrelevance on the Web
For a moment earlier this week, it looked like Microsoft was acknowledging the obvious: Its Silverlight software has no meaningful future on the Web among consumers.
If you just said "Silver-what?" to yourself, you've got company. Silverlight showed some promise when it debuted three years ago as a competitor to Adobe's Flash. But by November 2008, when Major League Baseball reversed an earlier switch to move its online video back to Flash, Silverlight had already begun to fade.
Since then, Silverlight as a Web format has been ignored in the fast-growing mobile market--the browser in Microsoft's new Windows Phone 7 doesn't support it, even though WP7 apps are themselves written in Silverlight. On the consumer desktop, Silverlight has seen few takers since Netflix began requiring Mac and Windows users to install this free plug-in to view movies streamed from the site.
It's no longer valid to compare to Silverlight to Flash; it's more like Oracle's Java, just without the annoying update routine and the security vulnerabilities.
So when ZDNet's Microsoft reporter Mary-Jo Foley quoted Microsoft corporate president Bob Muglia as saying "our strategy has shifted" with respect to Silverlight on the Web and that the Web's HTML "is the only true cross-platform solution for everything, including [Apple's] iOS platform," I thought it was a belated recognition of reality.
Those words must have upset somebody at Microsoft, as Muglia, chief executive Steve Ballmer and vice president Scott Guthrie each posted statements over the past few days renewing their support for Silverlight as a consumer Web format.
Wrote Ballmer: "Silverlight provides the richest media streaming capabilities on the web, and we will continue to deliver that on both Windows and Mac."
Good luck with that. A site would be crazy to adopt Silverlight as a media format now, when that decision guarantees its content won't be viewable on any mobile device (Flash, at least, works on newer Android phones) and will require many home users to install extra software.
(Don't get me wrong: I'm no fan of Flash and would be happy to see it supplanted by Web standards. At the same time, I have no problem with people using Silverlight on business projects, behind Web servers or inside application development. Just keep it out of my browser.)
Unfortunately, some sites remain that crazy. Besides Netflix, NBC's NBCOlympics.com site still requires Silverlight. And just yesterday, the District Department of Transportation launched a "dashboard" page to track the performance of its Circulator bus service that's written entirely in Silverlight. Sigh.
At some point, it seems only polite for Microsoft to remind Web authors of the obvious: Unless you have some seriously committed users willing to take extra steps, do not use Silverlight on a consumer-facing page; please use our other Web-development tools instead.
When do you think that will come? Or, for a simpler question: How long until Netflix dumps Silverlight?
| November 5, 2010; 5:06 PM ET
Categories: The Web, Video
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