Silverlight is a failed attempt (of sorts)

As someone living in the Microsoft client programming world, it’s very hard not to get emotionally drawn into the Silverlight vs. HTML5 discussion in the aftermath of the PDC 2010. And so do I.

Silverlight is a failed attempt, and HTML5 is completely taking over its role.

I think the above statement is true for at least one of the original drivers behind the product. Silverlight was announced and marketed as an alternative to Flash for video playback and streaming. Silverlight version 1 could hardly do anything other – that probably means that powerful stakeholders had pushed the video capabilities of the platform to a higher priority than most anything else. If I had to guess the business driver I’d say I’d say they wanted their piece of the Youtube business model – ad-supported video delivery. Flash was at the time the only medium capable of delivering against that goal, so Microsoft put a lot of effort into making Silverlight the better video player. Just look at all the work they’ve put into codecs, DRM, and streaming. They went public with streaming the 2008 Olympics – you can’t really launch any bigger.
Well, that plan did not really fly so well. Silverlight could not become dominant over Flash, and now Flash is being driven out of the market – by the means of adding video playback capabilities directly into the browser. So in conclusion, Silverlight is a complete fail in what the people who pay for it regarded its primary use case.

Even with version 2, Microsoft’s vision for Silverlight was much more about media and gaming than about larger-scale applications. Again, this story is hardly a tale of triumph. Everyone was extremely excited when Linerider was ported to Silverlight, but that was kind of a solitary success (and the productive version is still in Flash).

For line of business application with a rich UI, Microsoft’s proposition was a WPF application with Click-Once-Deployment. The success of Silverlight as a platform for internal business applications seemed to come as a surprise, and some effort has been put into making the platform better suited for that purpose since.

So when Microsoft now announces they’re adjusting the vision and strategy for Silverlight, you could also read that of a confession of previous failure.


Christian is a software architect/developer. He lives in Germany, reads a lot, and likes cycling.

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Posted in Coding
2 comments on “Silverlight is a failed attempt (of sorts)
  1. Eric says:

    Does Silverlight as a RIA platform remain viable simply because video playback has been superseded by browser functionality? For instance, does all of your work in the Silverlight arena get scrapped now with a renewed emphasis on HTML5 generation?

    • Christian says:

      Nope, definitely not. Silverlight today stands as an excellent platform especially for rich and complex business applications – the best that Microsoft has to offer, with good a good mix of reach and richness. But that might not be the place that Microsoft has envisioned for the product when they started it.

      The current discussion sees Silverlight under pressure as the rich application platform that it is now, not the media distribution vehicle that it might have been planned as. I’d like to add the perspective that – as developers – we might just not be reading the context of the announcements correctly.

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