microsoft & silverlight

I’ve been thinking for a while about Silverlight, the new tools+browser plugin+platform stuff from Microsoft. it’s very clearly designed to attack Adobe Flash as the rich media platform on the web (and the desktop). I can’t help but think, though, that they’re fighting the wrong war here.

Flash is very strong; there’s no doubt of that — it’s on something like 95% of the Internet-connected computers in the world — and the success of YouTube & other video sites has really cemented its place on the Web. But it’s not open or standard — it’s owned by one company here on the left coast of the US — not such a different situation than Java was in a decade or so ago. And we all know how how that story played out (when’s the last time you ran a Java applet? Don’t know? Right.)

And so Microsoft looks around at what they’ve got, and their Studio.Net tools are one of their absolute strongest franchises. Combine that with the new religion that they’ve got about services (instead of software), and they start to think they need to build yet another proprietary platform to compete head on with Flash, but leveraging their tool set. They know ubiquity is important, so in their version of “ubiquity” they build for PC & Mac, for IE, Firefox & Safari. Which looks a lot like ubiquitous, but it actually isn’t, and that’s telling.

But here’s the mistake I think they’re making: they’re gunning at Flash alone, with their own proprietary, closed stack — Mix07 hype notwithstanding, they’re not going to get any real help from anyone outside of Redmond.

And so if they really believe that Flash is the #1 threat to them on the web (I mean, aside from those cute & cuddly googlers in Mountain View), and if they really believe that services are the bulk of their future business, then they should line up with the open web. Build tools that emit not some weird stuff for yet another balkanized browser plugin. (Ever tried Windows Media Player on a Mac?) But instead use their huge tools franchise to create apps for the Web, using standards like SVG & Canvas & DHTML & Javascript.

Then, suddenly, they’re on the side of the web, on the side of a billion Internet users, on the side of everybody who’s not Adobe. But I think they can’t see it because of their history, even with a new guy at the helm.

So now it’s Adobe v Microsoft v the Web. I don’t see how they can really win this one.

[As an aside, I think a ton of stuff that Adobe has done lately shows that they’re thinking much further down this path than Microsoft is, and my hat’s off to them for that.]

8 Replies to “microsoft & silverlight”

  1. Nicely written. Keep in mind though, what you call the “wrong war” is clearly the “right war” from Microsoft’s POV. I remember Redmond woeing when Google bought Doubleclick, because it may create an internet monopoly of sorts. But Microsoft doesn’t mind monopolies per se — it only minds the ones that are not theirs. So them trying to push people into yet another proprietary solution isn’t so surprising after all.

  2. Nicely written. Keep in mind though, what you call the “wrong war” is clearly the “right war” from Microsoft’s POV. I remember Redmond woeing when Google bought Doubleclick, because it may create an internet monopoly of sorts. But Microsoft doesn’t mind monopolies per se — it only minds the ones that are not theirs. So them trying to push people into yet another proprietary solution isn’t so surprising after all.

  3. Hi Fred — that’s my exact point, actually — that it looks like the right thing for them to do, but I think they will have difficulty with this path, and could have done better by aligning in a way that they hadn’t before.

  4. Hi Fred — that’s my exact point, actually — that it looks like the right thing for them to do, but I think they will have difficulty with this path, and could have done better by aligning in a way that they hadn’t before.

  5. From my experience, Flash apps tend to look really good: rich, pleasant, and compelling. (I expect Silverlight apps to look and feel at least as good). On the other hand possibly EVERY web app I’ve come across using the web standards you mention (DHTML, CSS, etc…) just look and feel terrible. I use web apps all the time, just because they’re so convenient (usable from every computer), and tend to be FREE, but, dang, they look like crap when compared side-by-side with anything done in Flash or any standard desktop app. (I’ve blogged about side-by-side experiment recently at http://lastcomputer.blogspot.com/2007/05/browse…)You talk about the relative failure of Java and attribute that failure to Java being a closed system for so long. But Java applications also tend to look just plain terrible, even worse than most web apps, and I think that is the primary reason we don’t see many java applets these days. The problem isn’t open/standard-vs-proprietary, it’s correct technology versus wrong technology.Could it be that the web-app standards are just the wrong technology for making rich, pleasant, compelling applications?

  6. From my experience, Flash apps tend to look really good: rich, pleasant, and compelling. (I expect Silverlight apps to look and feel at least as good). On the other hand possibly EVERY web app I’ve come across using the web standards you mention (DHTML, CSS, etc…) just look and feel terrible. I use web apps all the time, just because they’re so convenient (usable from every computer), and tend to be FREE, but, dang, they look like crap when compared side-by-side with anything done in Flash or any standard desktop app. (I’ve blogged about side-by-side experiment recently at http://lastcomputer.blogspot.com/2007/05/browser-based-thin-client-apps-part-of.html)

    You talk about the relative failure of Java and attribute that failure to Java being a closed system for so long. But Java applications also tend to look just plain terrible, even worse than most web apps, and I think that is the primary reason we don’t see many java applets these days. The problem isn’t open/standard-vs-proprietary, it’s correct technology versus wrong technology.

    Could it be that the web-app standards are just the wrong technology for making rich, pleasant, compelling applications?

  7. brent: maybe you’re right; it’s of course possible. i come from a UI background a while back, and think that both web applications and, generally, open source software have challenges in putting together really compelling user interfaces — in the former case because (I think) of tooling, in the latter case (I think) because of the committee-like nature of OSS development. all that i’m saying here is that there are many virtuous effects of an open, non-proprietary ecosystem, and that Microsoft could have used it’s huge tooling advantage to build a platform that will benefit from everyone in the world working on it. it would be asymmetric to what Adobe could do with Flash (without opening it), instead of strength-on-strength.i don’t buy all your arguments in the “side-by-side experiment” post — i think that at a root level, it’s all just software, and there’s nothing that’s inherent in HTML & CSS that precludes a compelling user experience.i will say, also, that the way something looks is quite different from how usable & useful it is, and i think that it’s manifestly obvious right now that the utility of web apps is growing by leaps & bounds every single day, irrespective of how they look.anyway, we’ll see. my only point here that i was really making is that Microsoft had the opportunity to side with the open web against Flash and take advantage of their tooling superiority, but missed the chance, possibly because they line up with your line of reasoning here. completely reasonable; we’ll see what happens.

  8. brent: maybe you’re right; it’s of course possible. i come from a UI background a while back, and think that both web applications and, generally, open source software have challenges in putting together really compelling user interfaces — in the former case because (I think) of tooling, in the latter case (I think) because of the committee-like nature of OSS development.

    all that i’m saying here is that there are many virtuous effects of an open, non-proprietary ecosystem, and that Microsoft could have used it’s huge tooling advantage to build a platform that will benefit from everyone in the world working on it. it would be asymmetric to what Adobe could do with Flash (without opening it), instead of strength-on-strength.

    i don’t buy all your arguments in the “side-by-side experiment” post — i think that at a root level, it’s all just software, and there’s nothing that’s inherent in HTML & CSS that precludes a compelling user experience.

    i will say, also, that the way something looks is quite different from how usable & useful it is, and i think that it’s manifestly obvious right now that the utility of web apps is growing by leaps & bounds every single day, irrespective of how they look.

    anyway, we’ll see. my only point here that i was really making is that Microsoft had the opportunity to side with the open web against Flash and take advantage of their tooling superiority, but missed the chance, possibly because they line up with your line of reasoning here. completely reasonable; we’ll see what happens.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: