MS Silverlight - don’t give up on Flash just yet

By Murray Bourne, 31 Jul 2007

Microsoft has released an alpha version of Silverlight. It's an attempt to take market share from Adobe's Flash.

MS have made Silverlight multi-platform, and this is commendable. From the blurb:

Microsoft® Silverlight™ is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web.

So I downloaded Silverlight - fairly straightforward. After re-starting the browser, I tried to access the various examples on the site. They have used a silly javascript window loader that means in Firefox you get an unusable super-narrow window, as follows:


You can't resize this popup. You can barely use the movie controls. Not impressed.

I then went to the game that was made using Silverlight: Zero Gravity (page no longer available). I was not that impressed - it certainly didn't do anything that Flash cannot already do.

In their whitepaper, Microsoft explains about the "Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), eXtensible Application Markup Language (XAML)" background to Silverlight. They go on:

Because XAML is XML, it is-text based and thus provides a firewall-friendly, easy-to-inspect description of the rich contents. While other technologies—such as Java Applets, ActiveX, and Flash—can be used to deploy richer content than DHTML, CSS, and JavaScript, they all send binary content to the browser. Sending binary content to the browser is not only difficult to audit for security but also difficult to update. Any changes require the entire application to be reinstalled, which is not the most user-friendly experience and can lead to stagnation in pages. When "WPF/E" is used to change the rich content, a new XAML file is generated server-side. The next time the user views the page, this XAML is downloaded and the experience is updated without any reinstallation.

That certainly makes sense. However, Flash downloads are quite painless these days, and I am not sure that XAML is a compelling reason to change to this Microsoft product.

In the interests of fairness, I fired up IE and tried to look again at the video offerings in the showcase. This time I could see the videos okay (surprise). Was it a compelling experience? No. Does it give better quality than Flash video? No.

It will be interesting to see this play out. I expect it will take a lot of convincing before the die-hard Actionscript crowd give up on Flash.

The clincher will be how easy it is to program in Silverlight. For those with experience in Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer and Visual Studio, it appears from the whitepaper (referred to earlier) that creating Silverlight objects is quite straightforward.

Let the games begin. I can't see YouTube changing their platform any time soon.

Footnote: The whitepaper includes instructions for creating Silverlight documents in Firefox, as well as IE. Seems Redmond has finally noticed the market share they are continually losing...

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