If you are involved in development in the Internet in any way you cannot fail to hear the excitement surrounding Microsoft’s announcement of their Silverlight platform.
What is Silverlight?
Put simply it is being taken among the Internet in general as a competitor to Adobe’s Flash product. It is basically a framework for providing rich applications to the Internet browser.
Where Silverlight differs from Flash is it has been tailored to hook into the Microsoft API’s (under a generous but not completely open) license. This will enable applications to interact with MSN, Live Maps etc.
What’s to Love?
It’s cross platform user experience (not development environment.. see below). That’s good, but so is Flash. Come on, cross platform should be a minimum requirement in this day and age, not something to boast about!
Silverlight uses a mark-up language called XAML, “Whoopiedoo” I hear you shout, “another mark-up language, just what we need!”. This means absolutely nothing to the user, and developers will be able to adapt to it easily enough. The major advantage of XAML is that the search engines can read it. No longer will your site be crippled by the fact it has balls and whistles on it. Ok, so the readable part (XAML) of the app is only part of it, but hey, it’s better than Flash.
User interaction is a really impressive feature of Silverlight. A perfect example of this is Netflix. They have developed a system whereby 2 users can synchronise their videos so they are watching the same movie together. That’s cool!
The advantage Silverlight has over Flash is Microsoft will be able to deploy it as a Windows update (although they attract criticism for making it a critical update). This means that the uptake of Silverlight should be a lot faster than it was for Flash. Overnight Microsoft can roll it out to a massive percentage of the Windows user base.
Competition. As Silverlight is being seen as a direct competitor to Flash it can only mean Adobe are under pressure to improve their product. Could be good to put them under a little bit of pressure for once.
What’s to hate?
It’s not cross platform! You cannot develop Silverlight applications on a Mac. Only the plugin is cross platform. How on earth are they going to get designers on-board when they rule out all the Mac-heads?
The minimum spec Windows system is XP with Service Pack 2 installed. This in my mind rules out adopting just yet. There are lots of people out there who are not on SP2 (rightly or wrongly). Older Mac’s (non Intel) are also not supported fully.
Lastly, it’s yet another thing to install on your computer. If Silverlight is not installed it won’t display the content. Ok, it’s an easy install, but an install nonetheless. Looking at the stats most computers now have flash installed, but that took years to come about. Until the stats say >75% of people have Silverlight I cannot justify developing sites in it, it’s just not worth it.
So, the title of this post is “Love it or Hate it?”, So what is it to be? Personally I love to embrace new technology, I love to see what we can achieve and how we can push the boundaries. However, I also have an ingrained distrust of Microsoft. My main fear is this technology will “win the war” or will be taken on by so many people that they dominate the marketplace. We all know what Microsoft do when they dominate the marketplace, they don’t try anymore… just look at Internet Explorer.
Were this technology being pushed by another company I may be a little more excited about it, but my distrust of Microsoft combined with the Media hype (pushed mainly by MS themselves) leave a bitter taste in my mouth.
I love being wrong (years of practice) but I just feel this technology is not quite as good as they make out and I just wish it was the equivalent open-source solution, now THAT would be something to shout about.
That said, being that it has been launched by Microsoft I guess it is a foregone conclusion that we’ll all be emersed in it soon enough. They could launch a lump of cheese into the market and in 12 months everyone would be shouting “pass me the pickle!”.