Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Silverlight picks on Flash

... as Microsoft attacks Adobe's piece of the cake.

Microsoft has announced the official release of WPF/E under the official name of Silverlight.  The list of announced features is quite interesting (here's Tim Sneath's post), and it seems consistent with the philosophy we already saw with other .Net technologies: borrow everything that's good from the competitors, improve their weaknesses, integrate with .Net and make it develop-able in Visual Studio. If you know how C# stands compared to Java or ASP.Net compared to JSP, you know the answer... It's similar but not the same as SWF. Silverlight looks like a more technologically advanced version of Shockwave/Flash, it has some new ideas (like embedding XAML directly into the html page - which Flash player cannot do because it's SWF format is binary). But this is all on paper. For years Microsoft developers have been victims of unfulfilled promises: features were delivered as broken or incomplete or just silently dropped.

The real question is, will Microsoft Expression Whateveritsname be a better tool than Adobe Flash? If you compare feature lists, this is almost certain. But how will this features be implemented? There are already reports that the even the present Expression version, the Web Designer is far from complete. The other tool that could be WPF/Silverlight compatible, Visual Studio Orcas, is also in the making but if the previous Visual Studio .Net versions are anything to go by, it won't be a high quality or stable tool. For example, a major killer-feature of VS 2005, data binding, is still very much broken, even after service pack 1... And visual inheritance - present but unstable in previous versions - was just dropped in 2005's first release.

There was also some stir because the official announcement failed to mention a Linux Firefox plug-in for Silverlight. Well, I'm quite sure it had been announced at MIX 06: I remember one of the presenters declared that developing a Linux Firefox plug-in was (quite understandably) a great technological challenge for Microsoft people. I may be mistaken, it may have been just Firefox, without Linux :)... One thing should be clear, though: Microsoft's is going cross-platform not because they like Mac or Firefox but because of the antitrust case and because Adobe's already there. So, a Linux plug-in shouldn't be a big surprise at all.

There's also another interesting twist: with Silverlight, Microsoft is essentially entering an arena in which Adobe/Macromedia was the only fighter - seemingly, a benign monopolist. It's somehow strange to see Microsoft actually boosting competition instead of trying to destroy it.

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