Microsoft Silverlight

May 2, 2007

Microsoft announced Silverlight on Monday. Robert Scoble says “Microsoft rebooted the Web“. So I’ve read a bit about Silverlight as well as Adobe Apollo (the main competitor), watched some vodcasts, and I think I’ve slowly formed an opinion.

So what is Silverlight? Well its Microsoft’s answer to Adobe Flash mostly, and in my opinion, that is its main strength. It is a browser plugin (like Flash) that attempts to be cross-browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Safari) and cross-platform (Windows and Mac). That is a big step for Microsoft and it gives content creators an option other than Flash. Competition is a good thing.

So what else is it? Well, both Silverlight and Adobe Apollo provide a full software stack for Rich Internet Applications (RIA). They both support markup for doing animation, provide a VM that can run Javascript as byte-code (Silverlight supports a number of languages), and they can play multimedia.

There was a reason Java Applets didn’t make sense running inside of web pages and I’m a little surprised that both Microsoft and Adobe have forgotten that. Check that. I’m surprised that those excited about the RIA aspects of Silverlight/Apollo have forgotten that. The URL is king. If you are creating something that can not be linked to you better have a darn good usability reason to do so. This applies to AJAX, Flash, and Silverlight. Google Finance with their Flash based interactive stock graph is a good example of a special case that works. So now there is a Microsoft alternative to Flash for these special cases. Good for them (really). I’m sure there will be new interactive visualization applications that will be very cool, but I think these types of applications will be few and far between while HTML applications with URLs/Links will continue to rule the day.

Now what I’m really excited about is the possibility that a new browser-based video player might spur everyone (Adobe, Microsoft, Apple) to support one standardized video format (either h.264 or MP4/DivX). I shouldn’t have to worry about formats when playing video in the browser, iPod, Apple TV, or Xbox 360. One Ring to Rule Them All please.

Oh, I also like the idea of byte-code Javascript (with JIT compiler). So stick it in the stinkin’ browser!!! Sheesh. The first question for Microsoft should have been “so when will this compact CLR with Dynamic Language Runtime support be part of Internet Explorer proper?” Why do I have to run Silverlight to get high performance Javascript? Hmmmm… maybe its in IE7 and no one noticed.


2 Responses to “Microsoft Silverlight”

  1. John Dowdell Says:

    Small correction: Adobe Flash Player works inside the various browsers. Microsoft Silverlight eventually promises to work inside various browsers too. Adobe Apollo has a different scope, in helping regular in-browser webapps to become standalone applications, outside of the browser.

    Being able to represent application state in a unique URL is frequently a desirable goal, and has definitely been an achievable goal the past three years, but is not always a goal pursued by individual webapp developers. Here’s a 2004 tutorial:

    An upcoming version of Mozilla Firefox is planned to include a high-performance JIT compiler:


  2. RAD Says:

    Silverlight is supposed to support IE and Firefox on Windows and Firefox and Safari on Mac. That is a pretty good core group and certainly much better than IE on Windows only.

    Standalone Applications: Silverlight is a subset of the full .net CLR. Running a XAML based application should work inside and outside of the browser (if you do not have browser specific calls I’m assuming). As cool as Apollo and XAML/.net technologies look, I still am not convinced of their need for anything other than specialized cases.

    The Tamarin project, Adobe’s open source VM with JIT and Javascript support sounds great. Lets hope IE and Safari follow suit… oh, and the other important browsers Adobe supports ;-)

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