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Microsoft Silverlight to copy Flash video tricks, Adobe responds

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Analysis Microsoft last week made what is likely to be a lame attempt to slam the barn door after the video horse has bolted, copying the Adobe Flash Video strategy with a product that is quite simply too late.

Microsoft spectacularly blew the PC video market despite its huge global lead in Windows Media Player, with its onboard codec and DRM and more and more the Microsoft digital media strategy appears to be in tatters.

The widely covered Silverlight launch last week introduced a plug-in that allows video and games over the web, but it looks like a copy of the much appreciated Adobe Flash video strategy. Microsoft has at least had the sense to make the plug in work not only with Windows Explorer but also with Apple's Safari and Mozilla's Firefox and already the Microsoft affiliated Major League Baseball, DVD online rental specialist Netflix, and video aggregator Brightcove, and content delivery networks Akamai and Limelight Networks as well as Pinnacle Systems, have all pledged support for the next software.

Silverlight was launched predictably at NAB, the National Association of Broadcasters conference, and was described as a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications.

Just how many people will use the Silverlight plug in, in preference to Adobe’s Flash player remains to be seen. Adobe’s subsidiary Macromedia harnessed the On2 Codec and dealt with all the video scheduling issues in the client, so that video can be watched from any web site simply by clicking on a file sitting on a remote web server.

Previously content owners had to organize their web server with Real Time Streaming Protocol in order to support video directly. The result of the far easier Flash Video was a massive switch towards it in under a year, making it the default video protocol on the web. Support also came at the Silverlight launch from Eyeblaster, NaviSite, Rhozet, Skinkers, Sonic Solutions, Tarari, Telestream and Winnov which all said they would launch services based on it.

Silverlight will be based around an implementation of the Microsoft VC-1 video codec and uses Windows Media Video (WMV), and can offer video all the way up to High Definition, the company said.

This looks a purely defensive move by Microsoft, to prevent more partners leaving its fold, and one of the areas where it will struggle is on the mobile platform. Flash Lite is present in hundreds of millions of handsets and will upgrade this Summer to allow Flash video. It’s unlikely that Silverlight will get any support for Silverlight on non- Windows mobile handsets at all.

Microsoft will be retrofitted into its existing .NET Framework, Microsoft Expression Studio and Visual Studio, and Silverlight video can be output from AVI and QuickTime using Microsoft toolsets. Microsoft has also partnered with hardware-accelerator specialist Tarari to reduce encoding times for video by up to 15 times.

Meanwhile Adobe turned the knife at NAB, announcing that it was not content to just have stolen the PC video market from Microsoft, but added that it is now preparing its own Media Player to go head to head with the Windows Media Player.

It is a typical Adobe lightweight download and allows viewers higher quality Flash playback, the ability to download and view videos offline, full screen playback, viewer ratings, and a powerful Favorites feature. The player is cross-platform, based on open standards uses RSS and SMIL and works with almost all browsers.

Adobe Media Player offers content owners higher quality delivery options and progressive download, and protected download-and-play and off the shelf advertising options and permission-based analytics. Adobe Media Player will work with Flash, and the Adobe range of authoring tools and is available now as a Beta download. Our guess is that it will become the default video player on the web in almost no time.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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