The reports of Silverlight’s death have been greatly exaggerated

Microsoft has made a few announcements this week about their positioning on Silverlight. It all started when Bob Muglia was quoted at Microsoft’s PDC by saying Microsoft’s strategy for Silverlight has shifted. That quote caused a firestorm of controversy and a lot of unanswered questions.

“Is that code for Silverlight is no longer a priority?”

“Is Microsoft conceding that HTML 5 has won?”

“Are all the companies that devoted resources for learning Silverlight out of luck?”

Then, Microsoft tried to clarify with a blog post and a couple bullet points:

  1. Silverlight is very important and strategic to Microsoft.
  2. We’re working hard on the next release of Silverlight, and it will continue to be cross-browser and cross-platform, and run on Windows and Mac.
  3. Silverlight is a core application development platform for Windows, and it’s the development platform for Windows Phone.

The post didn’t do much to douse the controversy. One of the most critical comments on the blog:

“I’m not convinced. Sounds like typical well-worded & meaningless PR. Silverlight is dead in my eyes. WPF for desktop apps, HTML5 for the web / media…what’s that leave for Silverlight – a small niche for “flash” intros, fancy nav menus?”

This brings up a broader question – are Plugins dead? Have Silverlight/Microsoft and Flash/Adobe been duking it out only to let HTML 5 fly past them?

The short answer is nope. The longer answer is seriously, plugins are here to stay, and for good reason. I think the first thing we need to look at is how both Microsoft and Adobe are in interesting PR positions when it comes to HTML 5. Neither company can tell the whole truth about the standard. The truth is, HTML 5 is good for some things, and not good at some things. Neither company can talk about what HTML 5 is not good at because the press will eat them up for having a biased position.

A couple months ago I wrote a post about the “platform wars” to discuss the complexity of choosing the right technology for your UI layer. HTML 5, Flash, Silverlight, Objective C, Unity 3d, so I won’t get into a discussion here about which platform is good for what. But I do point out in the post what HTML 5 has disadvantages (as compared to applications built using plugin architecture): performance, richness, maintainability, connectivity, and scalability.

The second reason that Silverlight is not dead – Microsoft is building their own tools and operating systems with Silverlight as the core UI technology. They are eating their own Dog Food. Adobe is doing the same thing. Both companies have built a strong business around their pulg-in architectures. There is no money in plug-ins, but there is money in creating systems that have a strong UI play. And Silverlight & Flash provide both providers a great foundation to build solutions, tools and services around.

The everyone in the press loves a good story – and “Microsoft is killing Silverlight” is a great headline. But the reality is that Bob Muglia just simply answered the question wrong. The truth is that Microsoft’s focus at the PDC was about things that had new developments: Windows Mobile, IE 9, and Azure. Silverlight is between release cycles and there was simply not a ton to talk about, that came out as “The focus right now is on things other than Silverlight” – and the reporter ran with it.

  1. Albert said:

    Operating system is built on silverlight?

    Wow that’s a big day dream. Can you proing me a single Operating system built using Silvelright. Kindly do not point windows 7 because it’s presentation layer is using WPF.

  2. said:

    Albert: Windows Phone 7 OS, that’s the one. You can ONLY write apps for it using Silverlight. No local database either (no SQL, just something called XML store which is limited to 12 megs, not exactly possible to write a GPS app is it :))

  3. puzzler said:

    bbba0002: Yes, Silverlight is the platform for writing apps that run on WP7. That does not mean that the WP7 OS was written using the Silverlight API and runs on the Silverlight platform. Is there any link to where this (rather dubious claim, IMO) is documented?

  4. Per said:

    It is written: “.. operating systems with Silverlight as the core UI technology.”
    I think that refers to things like Windows Embedded, as used in the Nissan Leaf’s entertainment system.
    The OS was not built using Silverlight, but if you want to make applications for it, the core technology used to create UI elements and interaction is Silverlight.

  5. Silverlight is not dead and won’t be. I personally have done many Silverlight projects for Microsoft both internal and external. Mostly converting Flash apps over to Silverlight. It is also very widely used in the SharePoint 2010 designer.
    With the release of WP7, and Silverlight being the app code-base, we won’t be seeing it going anywhere any time soon.
    And no, the WP7 OS wasn’t written with Silverlight. It does run Silverlight apps. But it was designed with Windows CE 6.5. A rumor is that it’s firmware will be upgraded to Windows CE 7 in the new year.

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