A while back, I wrote a small article about why I felt Silverlight should fail. The writeup generated a lot of good conversation and a bit of ire from Silverlight supporters (such as this example) so I thought it would be beneficial to write a followup. Let me try to make this clear, I am not a Flash fanboy. While I use Flash to pay the bills, I have written about my concerns with Flash. It is my belief that use of Flash on the web (and other RIA technologies) will continue to dwindle as open-source solutions that provide similar solutions take their place. Even if Silverlight usurps Flash (something I greatly doubt), there may not be much of a kingdom to reign upon once they do. I think Adobe sees this shift, I am unsure if Microsoft does.
Silverlight Already Reeks of Microsoft
My wife and I have a subscription to MLB.com which uses Silverlight to stream their audio. Semi-unsurprisingly, the application did not work on either of our Macs – something that cannot automatically be attributed to the plugin directly, but it was not a good start for my opinion. However, what really got me was when I tried to uninstall it. I looked for an uninstaller, but nay, could not find one. I then found a Silverlight discussion board thread on the subject where the person was told they had to run commands through the terminal to get rid of the plugin. This, my friends, is the quintessential quandary of many Microsoft products – the technology is good but there is no polish or concern for outside cases. I do not run Windows and therefore do not have their uninstaller method, so I am stuck running commands through the terminal. Can you see why I, and many others, are skeptical about true cross platform support? If we cannot even get a simple uninstaller, how can we rely on anything of significance? It is not only cross-browser/cross-platform support that is necessary for success of a browser plugin, you also need cross-browser/cross-platform trust – something that still seems to be in short supply.
Drinking From a Shallow Waterhole
By failing, am I suggesting that Silverlight will be blown off the face of the earth by Flash? Of course not. However, I do not see Silverlight taking over Flash’s market – a market which I strongly feel will continue to shrink in the following five years. Since when is Microsoft not interested in dominating the market with a new product rollout? On top of it, I do not feel any RIA technology will be the go-to solution until it gets support from a large number of designers/design-technologists – something that Microsoft and traditional Microsoft products notoriously do not get. To me, that signifies a failure.
Then there is the desktop. I honestly feel this is the greenest pasture for these technologies in the coming years. At this point however, I have yet to read anywhere that Microsoft is planning the same level of cross-platform desktop integration as Adobe has with AIR (please correct me if I am wrong). This is one area where Silverlight could swiftly pummel AIR (on the Windows platform). However, I am understandably skeptical of how any new Microsoft product will fair on other platforms. We will see how this plays out, but once again, Adobe has the head start.
Microsoft Domination is So 1999
The idea that immediate adoption for a Microsoft product is inevitable simply is an outdated notion. We are seeing growing adoption for Firefox, no plans for iPhone support of Silverlight (Flash looks to be on the iPhone soon) and mass consumer frustration of Vista. If Microsoft had been able to buy out Yahoo (which uses a tremendous amount of Flash/Flex that could have been moved over the Silverlight), then that would have potentially changed everything, but that did not happen.
With all the criticisms that I have spoke of concerning Silverlight, this does not even take into account the fundamental criticisms/concerns I have RIA technologies in general. All the concerns I have with Flash can be said about Silverlight as well. You take a technology (with Flash) that is increasingly embracing open-source and standards, has been in the market for what seems forever, has a history of solid improvements on the product and pit it against a competitor (Silverlight) which is new and still rough around the edges, notoriously proprietary, and has a history of poor support of internet products. You take all of that and throw in the reality that open-source technologies are eating away at both of their markets along with the reality that Microsoft’s peak of dominance is behind them and it seems clear to me that Silverlight has a huge (if not insurmountable) hill in front of it. In short, if I am skeptical about Flash’s future within the browser, how could I see anything but failure on the horizon for Silverlight?