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Silverlight Is for the Client, HTML5 for the Web

by Abel Avram on Nov 02, 2010 |

After saying about Silverlight that “our strategy has shifted” during PDC 2010, Bob Muglia attempted to clarify what he meant. Steve Ballmer and Tim Heuer also commented on Silverlight, trying to reassure the community on Microsoft’s commitment to Silverlight, but also pointing to the fact that HTML5 is the solution for cross-platform development, leaving Silverlight to the client and Windows Phone.

Mary Jo Foley, a ZDNet editor, interviewed Bob Muglia, President of the Server and Tools Division at Microsoft, on the company’s current approach to Silverlight during PDC 2010. Muglia said that their “strategy has shifted”, but Silverlight will continue to be a limited cross-platform solution, adding that “HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including (Apple’s) iOS platform.” Muglia’s statements on Silverlight and especially the lack of Silverlight-related information at PDC 2010 generated a torrent of commentaries regarding Silverlight’s fate, mostly seen as a technology limited to Windows Phone 7.

Afterwards, Bob Muglia apologized for the “controversy and confusion” created, writing a post meant to clarify things around Silverlight. After reassuring the developers and customers that Silverlight will continue to be a “cross-browser and cross-platform, and run on Windows and Mac” and Silverlight is “a core application development platform for Windows, and it’s the development platform for Windows Phone”, Muglia made several remarks. One is that his statement that “our Silverlight strategy and focus going forward has shifted” was not meant to be a negative one, but rather a recognition of the change of the online development landscape that requires appropriate action. The main change is the number and type of devices that Silverlight would need to support in order to keep it the solution for complete cross-platform development:

When we started Silverlight, the number of unique/different Internet-connected devices in the world was relatively small, and our goal was to provide the most consistent, richest experience across those devices.  But the world has changed.  As a result, getting a single runtime implementation installed on every potential device is practically impossible. 

As a result, Microsoft has embraced HTML5:

We think HTML will provide the broadest, cross-platform reach across all these devices.  At Microsoft, we’re committed to building the world’s best implementation of HTML 5 for devices running Windows, and at the PDC, we showed the great progress we’re making on this with IE 9.

He points to the area Silverlight will cover, “client app and media experiences,” reassuring those interested that “we’ll continue to invest in Silverlight and enable developers to build great apps and experiences with it in the future.”

Steve Ballmer, Microsoft’s CEO, posted his impression on PDC 2010, commenting on Silverlight that it “provides the richest media streaming capabilities on the web, and we will continue to deliver that on both Windows and Mac,” but it also mentioned HTML5 as the solution for complete cross-platform development:

We’ve seen the emergence of a wide variety of Internet connected devices – and as I said last week, HTML 5 will provide the broadest, cross-platform reach across these devices, and Microsoft will build the world’s best implementation of HTML 5 for devices running Windows.  At the PDC we showed the great progress we are making on this with IE 9.

Tim Heuer, Program Manager for Silverlight, reassured developers and third parties that he personally made a bet on Silverlight this year, one affecting his personal life and his family by having to relocate to Redmond in an inappropriate moment, and he would not have done that if he wasn’t sure about Microsoft’s plans with Silverlight. But he also mentioned Silverlight is targeted at the client and he cannot say what would happen 5-10 years from now, so there is no long term strategy.

Microsoft’s position means that Silverlight is meant to create rich client applications on Windows, Windows Phone, and Mac OS. But it won’t be used to create web applications that run on any device, because that would mean to port and support it on too many platforms, the existing ones and others coming in the future. Adobe demoed a Flash to HTML5 conversion tool during Adobe MAX 2010. They also announced EDGE, a tool for visually creating HTML5 animation. Chances are Microsoft will follow the same path, using Silverlight to build animations which are later converted to HTML5, or creating HTML5 editing tools. These developments enforce the view that it won’t be Flash versus Silverlight on the web in the future, but only various implementations of HTML5.

Related post: HTML5 Is Taking Off

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Silverlight'fate by Java 陈

Silverlight'fate is Microsoft'fate.
Silverlight has a bright future than IE9.

Which one to choose? by xin du

If we will convert flash and silverlight apps to html5, why not use the html5 at the beginning.

Re: Which one to choose? by Abel Avram

For a new project, yes, it will be decided at start. But there are lots of legacy Flash videos which can be converted to HTML5. Same with Silverlight, but to a lesser degree. And there could be mixed apps. And, also, we need to consider transitions. Flash will be around for a long time. We can't just decide to go HTML5 tomorrow. There are IE versions out there not supporting it. There are some HTML5 implementations incompatibilities. Please see previous posts on HTML5: www.infoq.com/html-5

Re: Which one to choose? by Rob Addis

Abel, so Flash and Silverlight will be legacy technology once HTML5 is fully fledged?
Best Practice would be to build new apps in HTML5?

Re: Which one to choose? by Abel Avram

Yes, I believe Flash and Silverlight will slowly loose they share in web applications. I see that happening over a period of 10 years or so, but it may be sooner because companies seem to react much quicker these days than in the past. I also think that Microsoft will do their best to make Silverlight the "solution" for client development on Windows, but the importance of Windows will also slowly fade away. I see the future something like this: online, cloud, thin clients (browsers), rich web apps through HTML5. When I say HTML5 I don't see it as just video; it is HTML+CSS+JS+video+audio+canvas+WebSockets+etc.

Re: Which one to choose? by Rob Addis

Why? Just a robust standard all vendors will follow?

What is really in it for the vendors to just support it with "client app and media experiences"?

I guess a new standard implementation just requires new product. New competing toolsets on different platforms.

So I guess just answered my question... works for everybody in the short term, in general is better than the existing hack that is html and it levels the playing field.

Re: Silverlight'fate by .Net developer

I really like silverlight and I´d love it to be around for a few more years, just as Flash has been.
I think that Microsoft will not drop Silverlight easely because that would deceive most of us (customers, programmers, IT managers....etc) and that should have a negative impact on Microsoft's image (in my humble opinion).
Maybe we just misunderstood Mr. Muglia's words, maybe he just used the wrong words...

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