Microsoft Silverlight – Love it or hate it?

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.

Conclusion

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!”.

8 replies
  1. Jerino
    Jerino says:

    “Until the stats say >75% of people have Silverlight I cannot justify developing sites in it, it’s just not worth it.”

    That’s not a big deal. If I were to build a site in SilverLight or Flash, I’d add a note on the front page to remind users to install the plug in at first, and a friendly installation URL. The benefit of replacing HTML/JAVASCRIPT/CSS w/ more robust SilverLight and Flash is TOO GOOD AN OFFER TO REFUSE.

    Reply
  2. Jim
    Jim says:

    That’s cool, like I said I am happy to be wrong, I just have not seen any working examples of Silverlight solutions that couldn’t be done just as easily with other technology.

    I take it from your comment you use Silverlight, do you have any examples (either your own or other peoples) that could persuade me?

    Cheers,

    Jim

    Reply
  3. Jerino
    Jerino says:

    I plan to use SilverLight hard core but haven’t quite got both feet in there mostly b/c it’s still beta 2. It’s OK to take a wait & see approach on M$ stuff b/c it’s never difficult to pick up their tricks later on.

    This thing is too new to find an example showing its full blown potential. You can try “http://memorabilia.hardrock.com/”. I consider that site gimmicky and trivial, but a nice start nonetheless.

    If you wanna learn it, try “SilverLight.Net”. Lots of “how to” videos there.

    Reply
  4. Jim
    Jim says:

    Thanks Jerino, I took a look at the hardrock site and it’s not too bad. Doesn’t blow me away but it’s better than “Silverlight minesweeper” etc.

    I didn’t mean to come across a negative in the post, just that I am very cautious about getting excited about anything Microsoft. I guess I question their motives. When something has potential and is driven by a passion for the product that’s great. Let’s hope the Microsoft Silverlight experience will be better than the IE experience and (dare I say it) the Microsoft Office experience.

    Thanks again for your reply 🙂

    Reply
  5. guy thomas
    guy thomas says:

    Silverlight is Microsoft’s attempt to completely bypass the W3C. It has been developed purely on top of an OS agenda- i.e. we want to own the web so lets make the web only work with a M$ operating system. Oh, wait a minute, Silversh1te is cross platform – which in reality means it will work fully on a M$ OS with 4gb ram and a state of the art graphics card, and it will partially work with OSX.

    The kind of developers I can see embracing Silversh1te are the web developers who only develop for IE and have never heard about or don’t care about the W3C. If there was a web developer’s guild, these people would be disbarred or never allowed to join.

    Please don’t hurt the web, Silverlite is evil.

    Reply
  6. Jim
    Jim says:

    @Guy : I couldn’t agree more. From what I have seen so far their agenda is far from clear cut. When Microsoft start releasing some products that are truly cross-platform and open source (heaven forbid!) then I may have a better view of them. Until that day comes, I’m supporting the underdog!

    Thanks for your comment!

    Reply
  7. Rich C
    Rich C says:

    @Guy: The player works far better on Mac than their silly Flip4Mac plugin. When I can write ONE piece of code that works EXACTLY the same on IE, FF and Safari, on Mac and Windows, with no browser sniffing or stupid Javascript tricks, I’ll call it what it is: cross-platform.

    @Jim: No, they are not going to release Visual Studio on the Mac; they need something to differentiate Windows as a “superior” platform. Any expectations you may have in that regard are just plain silly. Besides, Microsoft claims you can develop for Silverlight on Notepad, so why not on TextEdit?

    Besides, a developer who creates an all-Flash website is no better than one who creates an all Silverlight site.

    What is evil is trying to convince people that Silverlight is better because its files can be read by search engines. What is evil is Google trying to find ways to index all-Flash sites. Leave them in the gutter until people realize what Flash (and Silverlight) is for and start making websites in HTML/CSS (and Javascript) again.

    Reply
  8. Ashlea Medel
    Ashlea Medel says:

    Hi, I found this blog article while searching for help with fixing Microsoft Silverlight. I have recently switched browsers from Chrome to Internet Explorer 7. Now I seem to have a problem with loading sites that have Microsoft Silverlight. Every time I go on a site that requires Microsoft Silverlight, the page doesn’t load and I get a “npctrl.dll” error. I cannot seem to find out how to fix it. Any help getting Microsoft Silverlight to work is greatly appreciated! Thanks

    Reply

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