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Oct 31

“Our strategy with Silverlight has shifted”; The problem with alignment with a single vendor

Open Web, Tech Add comments


You may think that this post is going to rub in the bad press that Microsoft has gotten around their Silverlight positioning coming out of PDC, but it isn’t.

It isn’t really about Microsoft at all. This moment did just spark with me though. Ben and I have been thinking a lot about application ecosystems thanks to our time at Palm. We did research and study, and part of that went back to history. One meta (and fairly obvious) point was remembering how lucky we are to have the Web. I have talked about the history of mainframes, microcomputers, pcs, consoles, you name it….. proprietary operating systems and SDKs ruled. Microsoft took the 90s with a massive lock-in due to software. The Internet changed the entire game and managed to break those chains. Office wasn’t the most important software anymore. Everyone wanted to get onto Google and Yahoo! and Amazon and Facebook and …. and that happened to be on the Web in a virtual machine of sorts (which in my opinion helped Mac OS massively).

For the first time, the dominant platform wasn’t owned by a single vendor. It was almost lost for awhile with IE, but massive thanks to Moz/Firefox and others it wasn’t. It isn’t like a bit that flipped then can’t be unflipped however (and Scott talks about how the Open Web could be closing).

scottgu silverlight

Back to Silverlight. When it was launched there was a massive push from Microsoft to get developers (which they are good at). WPF everywhere. The future was rich interfaces and the Open Web wasn’t up to the challenge so you have to use a plugin. You remember the massive deals to get distribution (Olympics etc). They push hard! As a Microsoft developer you could feel well aligned with what is going on. What about the Flash developers they tried to lure over…. and Web developers too? This is where the problem comes in. With every alignment with a single source, there is probably going to be a misalignment at some later date. Companies have to change strategy as the world changes. Silverlight was “cross platform” (a big deal for Microsoft to do at the time) but this meant “Windows and Mac (oh and we care about Linux via Mono honest!)”

At that time, that is what cross platform meant. Amazingly, a few years later and you laugh at that as when we talk cross platform we also include: iOS, Android, webOS, Blackberry, and you can keep on going. The world changed in a massive way. Silverlight is nowhere to be seen on more of these platforms, and thus it doesn’t make sense as the thrust of Microsoft’s strategy. I am glad I didn’t bet on Silverlight as a developer. I would be sitting at PDC feeling misaligned and hoping that either: a) WinPhone 7 does amazingly well, or b) happy to jump to another platform. Silverlight isn’t “dead”. It will go on. But it isn’t the same play.

Some are talking about how it is now just the WinPhone SDK. I don’t think this is really the case. I have heard that the browser on WinPhone 7 is a frankenstein fork of IE7 with some IE8 and maybe 9 patches and code put back in. Shipping a version 1 (or 7) of WinPhone was a massive undertaking and at some point you gotta ship. I would bet money that the team isn’t standing still and we will see the browser get better fast and join the world of IE9 with all of the goodness that will come of that. I hope that at this point they will be able to push the browser runtime as a first class citizen on the WinPhone platform. I got to play with the phone a little. The core apps were snappy but third party ones were …. not so much. I was told that the core apps are actually written in C++. Hmm. (To compare, the webOS core apps are written using HTML/JS/CSS, same as the SDK, you can even take a look at the code on the device! :)

Aside 1 There is a lot to learn from Silverlight. I would love to be able to have <script type="text/ruby"> that worked across the Open Web in a performant way. Being able to use languages that you prefer is great. Not everyone wants to write in JavaScript (even though some of them probably don’t get the good parts ;). Some fantastic video support. A lot more. We need to learn what we can and include what makes sense in a webby way. This way we can help the IE team make the strategy work for Microsoft.

4 Responses to ““Our strategy with Silverlight has shifted”; The problem with alignment with a single vendor”

  1. Markus Says:

    Exactly, the market has shifted and mobile has changed the meaning of cross-platform … and the web has come back big-time! Exciting times!

  2. Rob Says:

    I learned my lesson six years or more ago when I got into the web business and tried to start with .NET. One year later, MS made changes that forced me to throw all that away. I have not used Windows or any MS products since and never will, much to my profit both financially and mentally.

  3. Basu Says:

    Perhaps the next generation of browsers will make it easier to integrate scripting engines. Browsers could start treating themselves as multilanguage VMs and offering support for detecting language scripts and automatically installing and using a language translators.

  4. James MacFarlane Says:

    “Performant” isn’t a work Dion. :P

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