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Silverlighters committed despite Microsoft's HTML5 love

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Investing, heavily

Stanfield, who has what he calls a "healthy" Silverlight practice, said he'll pick the right technology for customers from a pallet of choices — he just won't use Flash. Silverlight from the start was Microsoft's offer to partners who wanted a media player with Microsoft tools and that wasn't from Adobe. "We are making money and solving real hard problems with Silverlight," Stanfield told us.

Beres, whose company does 50 per cent of its work on Windows clients and 50 per cent on the web, was blunt: "We are not going to cut and run on anything. We are investing in Silverlight heavily, we are investing in HTML5 heavily," he said.

Demonstrating the belief in the potential of Silverlight is Windows Phone 7 newbie IdentityMine. An interactive design agency, IdentityMine made its jump onto mobile because Windows Phone 7 uses Silverlight — IdentityMine is home to a number of authors who've written books on programming in Silverlight. IdentityMine has put the Internet Movie Database, Twitter, and History Here on Windows Phone 7 using Silverlight.

IdentityMine's director of UX evangelism Kurt Brockett said the company had dabbled with the iPhone but skipped Windows Phone 6.5 because it "was not a cutting-edge experience". "That's what's bought us over, and into mobile," Brockett says of Windows Phone 7.

The Silverlighers seem pragmatic about HTML5 and Microsoft's apparent conversion. They recognize it has potential but are skeptical of its abilities — at this point.

Vertigo works with HTML, and Stanfield said he's been having more conversations with customers about version five while his company has been doing some work with customers using the HTML5 video tag. But echoing the thoughts of those who flamed Microsoft for embracing HTML5 before the spec is baked and tools are available, Stanfield is clear: HTML5 is still hype — and that's thanks to the one-man magic show that's Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

"I'm excited about HTML5 but when I ask how many [people] are getting paid to develop software that takes advantage of a major feature in HTML5 the answer is zero. Nobody's getting engaged yet to take advantage of geo location, off-line storage, canvas," he said.

If anything, it seems Ballmer's HTML5 coming-out and his downplaying of Silverlight were designed to position Microsoft in the conversation about HTML5 that was started by Jobs this year. It's a decision, though, that's going to keep Silverlighters on their toes as more customers hear about the cancer-curing properties of HTML5 — thanks to Jobs — and decide they want some.

HTML5 is still hype — and that's thanks to the one-man magic show that's Apple CEO Steve Jobs

Brockett has said he's not losing sleep over Silverlight's future, but he concedes that HTML5 is the industry's current darling. If there's one lesson from the PDC fallout, it's that IdentityMine must keep informed about its technology options — because his customers certainly have. "This stuff is important to regular users and customers. They pay attention to this and we have to pay attention and be ready to respond," he said.

IdentityMine is keeping a watching brief on HTML5. "HMTL5 is creeping into the conversation, but it's very early. It's right for futures, and we are watching HMTL5 and coming up with plans on how to message that and add to that," Brockett said.

The partners remain very much focused on what's next for Silverlight, and will likely be hanging on Guthrie's roadmap later this week.

Brockett reckons that Silverlight for Windows Phone 7 still has got a long way to go. This is, after all, just version one. The industry mantra on new Microsoft products is that you wait for version three. In the future, Brockett wants to see updates of existing Silverlight controls for features such as panorama and pivot, new controls added, and the native APIs opened up to features such as an on-board camera, bringing Silverlight-based phones in line with all other handsets.

His immediate concerns are whether Silverlight on Windows Phone 7 can keep up with a fast-paced device industry and also run on more handsets than the handful currently permitted. "The phones feel modern right now, but things change so quickly," he said.

Grown up, no place to go?

Stanfield, meanwhile, thinks Silverlight in general is a pretty mature piece of software — hence his lack of surprise that Microsoft is altering strategy. "They got Silverlight under control. We were asked what we wanted to see added to Silverlight 5 — the list was quite short," he said, without saying what features he has asked for. "You are able to use it to solve big problems."

All signs point to Microsoft not killing Silverlight. It can't. Unlike the Zune, Windows Vista, KIN phones, Live Spaces, and the WS-* specs, too many people have now bought into Silverlight at the programming and partner level, and Windows Phone 7 is now on the sharp end of a very high-profile, new business-growth strategy for Microsoft in mobile.

Whatever happens Thursday, one thing is clear: Silverlight is no longer the one-answer-fits-all, rich-media technology Microsoft had allowed it to become. Specific markets, always in the background, are now the core focus, giving partners serving them an alternative to Flash. This was always the real story of Silverlight, but expectations grew along with all that broadcast hype, while Microsoft screwed up the delivery of the new message.

And as for the Silverlighters? Business as usual, it seems. ®

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