Fans roast Microsoft for Silverlight demotion
Careers damaged, technology unready
Microsoft is facing a wave of disbelief and anger from Windows programmers after saying that it is demoting the would-be Flash-killer Silverlight for HTML5.
Server and tools president Bob Muglia apologized for any "controversy and confusion" caused by comments in an interview last week, when he said that Microsoft has shifted its strategy of using Silverlight to deliver a cross-platform runtime.
And, in a refreshing twist for a corporate president, Muglia said the interview in which he made the comments, with All-about-Microsoft's Mary-Jo Foley, was accurate.
He blogged on Monday:
I said, "Our Silverlight strategy and focus going forward has shifted." This isn't a negative statement, but rather, it's a comment on how the industry has changed and how we're adapting our Silverlight strategy to take advantage of that.
Both Muglia and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer - speaking at last week's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC) - have made it clear: HTML5 is now considered the future for building rich interfaces for web-connected devices.
"Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, working on a variety of operating system/browser platforms, going forward," [Muglia] said. "But HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including [Apple's] iOS platform."
Muglia promised on Monday that Microsoft will continue to invest in Silverlight and "enable developers to build great apps and experiences with it in the future". It's just that Microsoft's commitment has shifted.
Silverlight will be used for Windows Phones and client UIs — the latter taking Silverlight back to the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) from whence it came.
The comments section of Muglia blog post, and the blogosphere in general, are running hot as Microsoft loyalists and Silverlight converts slam the company's decision — and its timing.
Microsoft is making a "huge mistake" in backing the unfinished HTML5, according to some, and is fumbling the decision by not having tools ready at PDC: even its most HTML5-compliant and -compatible version of Internet Explorer (IE9), is not yet ready.
The company has been hit for selling out Silverlight, which is able to do things that are missing in HTML5 — features such as Deep Zoom to keep zooming into an image and retain crystal clarity, along with HTTP adaptive streaming and Smooth Streaming to put Silverlight content on difference devices and to adapt the stream to take account of changing bandwidth and network quality.
Also, there was the ability of C# .NET and Visual Basic .NET programmers to build media content using their existing tools and technologies — a big Microsoft selling point.
Commenter Wim Bokkers wrote: "HTML5 is promising, but Silverlight delivers."
Others have picked up on Microsoft's sudden switch and the impact after three years of hard sell and evangelism, feeling short-changed that they bet their futures on Silverlight.
Muglia said there will be another version of Silverlight, but gave no details. At this point, we could expect news at Microsoft's Mix web and creative show, traditionally held each March in Las Vegas.
Commenter Ross Wozniak summed up the feeling of loss among Windows coders, and of having been led down a cul de sac, by telling Muglia:
Your comments (or at least the snippets that appeared in print) may have done irreparable damage to my career, and many others like myself that threw all of their eggs into the Silverlight basket. I *expect* you to fix this, and soon! As was mentioned in some of the other posts, it's going to take a *lot* more than this one article to repair the damage.
Others have threatened to switch to Adobe Flash, the player Microsoft built Silverlight to beat.
But was it the right decision?
Despite this, was Microsoft right to move on?
Open sourcers might chuckle at the predicament of the Windows fan: if Siverlight had been an open source project, they might argue, then Microsoft's army of programmers wouldn't been left hanging when the project's primary backer changed its roadmap.
The future is certainly uncertain for Silverlight's users, despite Muglia's enthusiasm and attempts at damage limitation. Customers, partners and individuals must now decide their next move.
There are some flagship early adopters — NBC streamed its summer and winter Olympics coverage while Netflix built a Silverlight media player. There was plenty of enthusiasm from a number of partners who felt — finally — that they had an alternative to Adobe Flash. In just three years, the Silverlight player had become installed on "two-thirds" of PCs.
Despite this, Silverlight remained heavily outgunned by Flash and HTML5 as a content authoring and delivery platform on the web and devices. Much work remained to push Silverlight's adoption by key partners and grassroots adoption among those in the wider content community.
A brilliant afterthought to the heavy WPF in 2007, Silverlight quickly became Microsoft's Flash. In 2010, it became a victim of history. With Apple banning Flash from the iPad and iPhone, and with Silverlight still not running on iOS, being "the other" Flash was a dangerous and limiting label.
It's notable that Muglia highlighted the fact that HTML5 can and does work on Apple's operating system. Clearly, Microsoft believes there's more to be had from having apps and content built using Microsoft tools and services than in continuing to push its own vision for a Flash-like player.
Backing HTML5 also suits Microsoft from a cost and maintenance perspective: in supporting HTML5, Microsoft can lower its overhead because it's not rolling its own stack of media technologies, while — handily — being perceived as being more open by backing HTML5.
The company is already showing in IE9 that it can work with existing standards and make them work better, without having to build its own version of a media stack optimized for Windows.
Muglia took a tough — and decent — decision to acknowledge that Microsoft's priorities have changed on Silverlight versus HTML5. This is clearly taking some getting used to among Silverlight users, and it'll be interesting to see if Microsoft feels stung and back-pedals.
If Microsoft doesn't go backwards, the next question will be just how far Microsoft continues to build Silverlight, and how far today's version of Silverlight separates and morphs to serve Windows Phones and PCs. ®