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Microsoft to extend Silverlight for Mac?

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HTML 5 in Internet Explorer may mean Microsoft is rejoined the league of civilized nations on browsers, but another Microsoft technology remains under lock and key more firmly than ever.

Microsoft's Silverlight media player has, with version 4 due next month, gone from being closed source but able to work on other platforms - the Mac - to being increasingly tied to Windows.

An up-coming feature called COM Automation has been introduced that potential lets content in Silverlight and Silverlight applications work with documents in Microsoft's Office stored on a PC. Also, COM Automation could access other system capabilities like a USB security card reader.

COM is a Microsoft architecture, not found on the Mac, so this means Silverlight is beginning to be built by Microsoft to give Windows a leg up over the competition.

Brian Goldfarb, lead product manager for web platform tools, defended the decision last year.

"[Mac and Windows Silverlight] are on a par in every other respect. It's important to give developers choice. We also want to have the option to light up the platform," he told Reg reviewer Tim Anderson.

Now, though, it seems things are changing and Microsoft might actually want Silverlight to run equally well on the Mac, either through its own engineering efforts or by working with others.

Goldfarb, fresh from Microsoft's recent Mix 2010 conference where the HTML 5 news was announced, told The Reg that Microsoft is "looking at other ways to extend Silverlight to other platforms". Microsoft is looking at features that are specific to those particular platforms and that could mean support in Silverlight for AppleScript or shell extensions.

"We are waiting for customers to give us some use cases," Goldfarb said.

For the Linux and Unix crowd, we already have Moonlight - the Novell-sponsored project led by Miguel de Icaza. Moonlight spun up when Microsoft made it clear it didn't have the "resources" to target platforms other than Windows. Moonlight is now on version 2.0 but does not implement all features of the main Silverlight. Also, it's only just catching up to the current Silverlight 3.0, as Microsoft prepares to drop version 4.0.

Microsoft has supported Moonlight because it potentially seeds the market and creates interest in Silverlight. If Goldfarb is right, then it looks like Microsoft believes Silverlight on Mac can also play a part in this. While that will suit Microsoft's goals it should also mean that Silverlight on Mac avoids the kind of second-class status Office for Mac has endured. ®

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