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Microsoft buffs Silverlight for HTML5 video contest

'We're more consistent. And we're here'

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Microsoft has tried to justify its Silverlight media player in the age of HTML5.

Brad Becker, Microsoft director of product management, says that Silverlight is not designed to replace HTML5. The closed-source player, he contends, lets you build "premium" experiences.

Also, Becker says, Silverlight delivers "consistency" and "timing" for those looking to offer online video, games, and consumer, business, and enterprise applications.

You'd expect Microsoft to justify Silverlight, just not so weakly.

On the "consistency" front, Microsoft says that whereas HTLM5 and CSS3 "have traditionally had a lot of issues with variation between browsers," Silverlight gives you the same experience "everywhere". But HTML and CSS are ubiquitous web standards, and HTML5 and CSS3 are likely to slide in right behind the existing versions. Furthermore, there's a really big question over "why" you need Silverlight's 2D and 3D graphics when a talented developer or creative can work with SVG, CSS, or Canvas.

As for "timing," Becker said RIA addicts should use Silverlight because there's still no date for HTML5. In other words, don't delay: join team Silverlight for the big win. Microsoft has delivered four versions of Silverlight in the time it has taken (so far) to build HTML5.

Steve Jobs' anti-Adobe HTML5 cheerleading aside, nobody's really waiting for the W3C's official sign off on HTML5. Sublimevideo already has an HTML5 video player – which also claims "consistency" in any browser and on any platform – while Brightcove has launched an HTML5 video service.

Real-world customers are also going to HTML5: the New York Times is offering HTML 5 content in its iPhone and iPad apps. Brightcove's customers include the Showtime network, Reebok, Staples, Discovery Channel, and Virgin Media Television.

Others, such as airline Virgin America, have seen the potential HTML5 offers for their sites as an alternative to Adobe's Flash Player on certain web pages. In short, they wanna reach customers using iPads and iPhones.

When it comes to video, claiming HTML5 lets you build "premium" media experiences is a busted argument. It's an argument Microsoft has used to notch high-profile customers. NBC streamed the most recent Winter and Summer Olympics using versions of Silverlight.

Another Silverlight user is Netflix. But it should be noted that Netflix founder, chairman, and chief executive Reed Hastings is a member of Microsoft's board.

Where Microsoft can claim an edge over HTML5 is the work it's done to tie its media player back into the Microsoft developer, data, and runtime stack for business apps.

As Becker highlighted, among Silverlight's strengths are a set of 60 pre-built controls for Windows and .NET, the ability to build apps using C# and Visual Basic, integration with Microsoft's COM and data support back into Microsoft's LINQ architecture.

After the initial excitement over Silverlight's one to four, it's hard to see what happens next for Microsoft's media player. A lightweight after thought of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), the catch up to Adobe's Flash is largely done and Microsoft's finally got a really good, rich answer to Flash.

It's a player that will keep Microsoft shops happy and coding with .NET, and gives partners building interface tools a software that puts a slick, interactive wrapper on business applications. Silverlight's also being deployed on Windows Phone 7, to give existing .NET programmers a new target platform and to – again – elbow past Flash in market share.

The campaign, now, is one for market share: signing up more flagship adopters like NBC while devs pump out more content. The end point: critical mass. Becker's arguments are the latest shot in this campaign.

Positioning Silverlight as a richer, faster, or more reliable alternative to HTML5 is a weak – and late – response to Jobs' boosting of HTML5 against Flash. Becker has fallen into the same trap of Jobs, by focusing on video in HTML5, when the spec is so much more.

It would have been better to talk about Silverlight's potential against Flash in business as a wrapper for client-side apps with data integration to the Microsoft back end rather paint Silverlight as the alternative to HTML5 on the web. ®

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