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Microsoft: Silverlight safe against HTML5

Protesting too much?

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The executive leading Microsoft's Silverlight has dismissed claims the rich-media play player could fall victim to internal politics favoring HTML5.

Vice president for the .Net developer platform Scott Guthrie Tweeted that Microsoft is investing heavily in Silverlight, with more than 200 engineers working on Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

Guthrie also flagged up the release to manufacturing of Windows Phone 7, which uses Silverlight, and the recent delivery of WPF Ribbon.

The Tweets, caught by Reg regular Tim Anderson, came after former Silverlight product manager Scott Barnes recently claimed there's "intense internal debate about the future of HTML5" inside Microsoft with implications for Silverlight and WPF. According to Barnes:

"Right now there's a faction war inside Microsoft over HTML5 vs Silverlight. oh and WPF is dead.. i mean..it kind of was..but now.. funeral."

Barnes continued that nobody's working on WPF beyond "minor touch ups." Also, the IE team sees HTML5 as the replacement for WPF and wants to fork the HTML5 spec by bolting on custom Windows APIs.

It’s the latest chapter in a strange episode.

Guthrie has Tweeted after Microsoft director of product management Brad Becker posted a curiously timed blog justifying Silverlight in relation to HTML5.

Becker said Silverlight lets you build "premium" experiences, and provided "consistency" and "timing" for the delivery of online video, games, and consumer, business, and enterprise applications.

Becker appeared to be stating the case for Silverlight as a competitive counter to summer’s furor over HTML5 as a vehicle for delivering rich media on the web. Apple's chief executive played a large part in igniting that debate, as he was boosting HTML5 to help sink Adobe Systems' Flash.

But the timing of Becker’s post was odd. It came a good few weeks after the HTML5 versus Flash debate. It now seems that Becker could have been making the case for Silverlight in public as part of a debate inside Microsoft.

If Barnes is right, and there is a debate over WPF, this would have implications for Silverlight, which is a subset of WPF and runs in the browser in addition to the desktop.

Silverlight itself was an afterthought for a company that had devised WPF as its new graphics architecture for the grand vision that was Windows Vista.

Silverlight was good idea for Microsoft, coming from its background of Windows Media Player. It has seen millions of downloads and has been on the sharp-end of Microsoft's developer and media push in the last few years.

Silverlight, though, is a closed, Microsoft technology that the company must maintain. HTML5 offers an open architecture that all can build and help maintain and that is genuinely cross-platform. In an era of tight budgets and cost cutting, the HTML5 route could look attractive as it would mean Microsoft is no longer re-inventing the graphics wheel.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer 9, due for beta this week, sees the browser move the closest it has ever been to full support for the HTML family.

IE9 will include HTML5 video and audio elements, 2D graphics using the highly-anticipated Canvas element, and support for embedded fonts using Web Open Font Format (WOFF). The browser will also feature a new script engine, Chakra, that uses hardware to boost performance to within 50 milliseconds of Safari, Opera, and Chrome on SunSpider benchmarks.

The question for Microsoft will be, how far it chooses to continue pushing its own technology versus HTML5. Also, how far it continues to tweak its APIs to deliver a "richer experience" for content delivered on Windows, and - as a result - prioritize Windows at the expense of other platforms. ®

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