Is Silverlight Done? Microsoft Shift in Strategy to html5

Silverlight launched in 2007 to compete with Flash as a rich media and internet app toolkit.  Microsoft had failed before with Liquid Motion competing with Flash back in late 90′s early 2000′s.  Now, over 10 years later, Silverlight might be dying as a technology that was another competitor to Flash, due to poor timing and lack of committment.

Now Microsoft has all but confirmed that Silverlight is losing steam.

I asked Bob Muglia, the Microsoft President in charge of the company’s server and tools business, that very question and got what I consider to be the clearest answer yet about how Microsoft is evolving its Silverlight strategy.

Silverlight is our development platform for Windows Phone,” he said. Silverlight also has some “sweet spots” in media and line-of-business applications, he said.

But when it comes to touting Silverlight as Microsoft’s vehicle for delivering a cross-platform runtime, “our strategy has shifted,” Muglia told me.

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

Silverlight was launched as a competitor to the Flash Flex framework and competing with Flash video most of all.  This was before the H.264 battles, right when the mobile scene blew up and changed the game immensely.  It was actually nice when it launched because it pushed Adobe on Flash and Flex (Flex was even later merged into the Flash brand to help it be more consistent like Silverlight).  This was good for the whole interactive space.

Microsoft is now going with an HTML5 strategy. The odd thing is that the Windows Phone is entirely Silverlight driven, no html5 support. So is Microsoft going to leave their new mobile platfform high and dry due to this change in strategy? It just seems so short sighted and reactionary over at MSFT that everything is wavering.  Who’s developing just silverlight for just Windows Phone? The timing of them stating this couldn’t be worse for Windows Phone.

Microsoft’s html5 strategy is hardware accelerated, something that Silverlight only partially has like Flash (though Adobe is changing that).  It is apparent that mobile has changed even the rich internet applications game as well as gaming in that we are back to multiplatform, native apps and non browser plugins for web content (mobile devices support no web browser plugins at all let alone Flash or Silverlight).  Still for the next 2-3 years limitations in hardware on mobile devices prevents anything software rendered to be fast (including html5 canvas and svg if there is no hardware acceleration), and due to this slowness, not able to compare/compete to compiled native apps that do have hardware access.  This has forced Adobe and now Microsoft to change their strategies to get through it.  We may see a resurgence of Flash and Silverlight like plugins on mobile browsers but not for years.

The only real place we see Silverlight is over at Netflix (maybe they will go html5 video or Flash video) and on Microsoft shop client apps.  It appears with no support from Microsoft it will fall out of favor faster. Microsoft developers are usually forced to go with what Microsoft is recommending as much of it is sold through a business channel rather than developers now.  It is good html5 and standards will be more prevalent in that ecosystem as long as they don’t start marginalizing it to proprietary elements.  But if you step back and see the rumors a week ago that Microsoft might be interested in Adobe, the mobile surge and strategy shifts at Microsoft, it seems to send out a clarion call that Silverlight is over or the credits are about to roll.

The mobile surge, standards, native, hardware acceleration and cross platform aims of current market leaders, we have the new game, again. It doesn’t appear like Silverlight was, or will be, a success.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/matthew.fabb Matthew Fabb

    “Flex was even later merged into the Flash brand to help it be more consistent like Silverlight”
    Note, the Flex brand still exists, it was just the tool Flex Builder that was switched to Flash Builder, since many were confusing the tool with the framework.

    “…mobile devices support no web browser plugins at all let alone Flash or Silverlight”
    Android 2.2 and the Palm Pre 2 support Flash Player 10.1. All mayor smartphone companies except for Apple are working to bring Flash to mobile. Even Windows Phone 7 is supposed to get Flash support in early 2011.

    I think part of the switch in stragedy from Microsoft is that they were so behind in getting a mobile version of Silverlight plugin working. Even Windows Phone 7 won't play Silverlight content inside of the browser, it has to be compiled down and installed as a native app. That said I imagine Microsoft will keep supporting Silverlight for quite some time. Apparently Silverlight 5 is still in the works, it's just I don't think it will grow anymore as Microsoft scales back on adding new features.

    • http://drawlabs.com drawcode

      Yes I meant Flash Builder. As people actually thought it was a separate platform (people did have some trouble integrating the two) it was really just a framework and what brought in AS3 which was a good thing. Consistent naming for the tools was needed but they probably only kept the Flex name at all to help all the existing Flex developers. Flex vs Flash developers were segmenting.

      What I meant by plugins is all plugins. Yes some phones support Flash 10.1 such as Android 2.2+ and Pre but as Webkit is a common browser on mobile no plugins are really running there yet. Flash just got there but Unity, Java, Silverlight or custom plugins aren't there. On iOS, the biggest web user mobile experience, no web browser plugins are available at all in mobile Safari.

      You don't want to be using the tool that Microsoft decides to stop pushing (VB6, VB.NET, COM, MTS, etc), you'll find yourself the only one there in Microsoft's ecosystem, mind you I developed .net for nearly a decade for a good portion of my time along with python, flash, php, and native (C/C++). To be a successful Microsoft dev the way it is setup is you jump on the newest Microsoft technology to help it succeed and reap the momentum. I think launching a phone on a strategy that is changing is just a very unclear message.

      • Shawn

        unity == flash, in about 6-12 mths

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  • Laurent Bugnion

    Disclaimer: I am a Silverlight MVP and book author, and as such I have an interest (some would say a passion) for Silverlight. Also, I do have a privileged relationship with Microsoft, giving me early access to tech previews and confidential information. Obviously I cannot talk about these in public forums.

    Update it was pointed out to me that it is not fair to MaryJo Foley to use the word “incorrect”. I agree and changed the following paragraph a bit.

    That said, I would like to encourage the public to think with their brain instead of merely rehashing information posted by tech journalists. We all know how tech journalism works today. The goal is to publish as fast as possible, even if the statements are taken out of context. The only thing that matters is audience. I saw this personally a few times, with statements I made to tech journalists being distorted in one way or another, and sometimes even plain wrong statements being attributed to me.

    While I am strongly in favor of standards for the web, we need to consider a few facts. HTML5 is very promising, and I am excited by this prospect. I have a strong past of JavaScript programming (having been extremely active in the JavaScript community years ago). I also programmed in many other technologies over the years (yeah I am old), from C to C++ to Java to ASP to VBA to ASP.NET to WPF to… you get the picture. As such I think I am qualified to talk about the current landscape.

    (more at http://www.galasoft.ch/debate)

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