Every year for the last several years, Microsoft has used their Fall PDC conference to tout (among other things) the improvements they’re making, about to make, or have just made to the Silverlight platform. But over the last year, there’s been a fair amount of discussion in the Silverlight developer community about the future of Silverlight vs. HTML 5, given that many of the things that you need a plugin for will eventually be available in HTML 5 (specifically, video and smooth animations). This has left folks investing in Silverlight (like myself) a little bit on edge. Microsoft has a history of touting a platform, only to drop it when something bigger and better comes by. This may be good for Microsoft, but it’s not so good for the folks who have invested hard in that particular platform. My assumption, however, has been that with the advent of Windows Phone 7, which is based on an old but reasonably functional version of Silverlight, that Microsoft has lots of reasons to continue investing in and improving the Silverlight platform.
Still, I was surprised, and not in a good way, that the entire emphasis at PDC 2010 was on IE9 and HTML5. If the word “Silverlight” crossed Ballmer’s lips at the keynote, I missed it. There wasn’t a single session dedicated to Silverlight (it got mention in a few), and after a regular drumbeat of 12-month releases, there wasn’t a single hint about what might be coming in Silverlight 5. This worried me.
My worry turned to angst, and from angst to anger, when I read Bob Muglia’s comments about why Silverlight had been de-emphasized at PDC 2010:
“Silverlight is our development platform for Windows Phone,” he said. Silverlight also has some “sweet spots” in media and line-of-business applications, he said.
But when it comes to touting Silverlight as Microsoft’s vehicle for delivering a cross-platform runtime, “our strategy has shifted,” Muglia told me.
Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, working on a variety of operating system/browser platforms, going forward, he said. “But HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including (Apple’s) iOS platform,” Muglia said.
It could. Silverlight could do all these things. It doesn’t do them yet. And the only way that it might ever do these things is if Microsoft puts its full weight and authority and development resources and marketing muscle into play. Silverlight has always been a hard sell, an also-ran in a crowded space dominated first by Flash and now by HTML 5. But it has the potential to punch its own weight if Microsoft is committed to fixing all the things that remain wrong with it. And that’s precisely what Muglia seems to have committed Microsoft to not doing. Yes, there’s going to be another version. (But there’s no point to Silverlight unless there are going to be five more versions, at a minimum.) Yes, it is the platform for Windows Phone 7. (Which has precisely, let me check, oh, umm, zero market share, in a market dominated by companies which have handily out-competed Microsoft for years now.) Yes, it can still fill a couple “sweet spots” in media and line of business applications. (But these “sweet spots” can be addressed just fine with Flash and .NET client apps.)
I hope he’s wrong.