Microsoft shuns its own Silverlight while embracing Flash

Flash animations come through fine on IE10 running on Windows RT and the Metro side of Windows 8, but not Silverlight sites

Yesterday on the MSDN Internet Explorer blog, IE group program manager Rob Mauceri announced that Internet Explorer 10 running on both Windows RT and the Metro side of Windows 8 will now show all Flash animations, except those specifically blocked by a blacklist created and maintained by Microsoft. What about Microsoft's own Silverlight? Nope. Silverlight sites can't strut their stuff in Windows RT or the Metro part of Win8, no matter how hard you try.

The Silverlight developer community is, in a word, peeved.

Here's how the controversy unfolded. Back before Windows 8 betas appeared, we were teased with hints about the demise of Flash as we know it. In September 2011, Dean Hachamovitch wrote on Steve Sinofsky's Building Windows 8 blog:

Metro style browsing and plug-in free HTML5 ... the Metro style browser in Windows 8 is as HTML5-only as possible.... Providing compatibility with legacy plug-in technologies would detract from, rather than improve, the consumer experience of browsing in the Metro style UI. Plug-in-free browsers today already deliver great experiences with well-authored HTML5 content. These experiences get even better with touch in Metro style IE.

In February 2012, Microsoft released the Windows 8 Consumer Preview. It held lots of surprises -- no Start menus, for example -- and the official Windows 8 Consumer Preview Product Guide for Business made ominous noises about Flash. Among other things, the guide said, "Internet Explorer is also plug-in-free. Line-of-business applications that require legacy ActiveX controls will continue to run in the desktop version of Internet Explorer. The desktop version can be easily accessed by tapping Use Desktop View in Internet Explorer."

Since the beta of IE10 running on the Consumer Preview's Metro side wouldn't run Flash animations on any site, many observers figured Microsoft had followed in Apple's footsteps and banished Flash, albeit only in Metro. Flash did, does, and will work on the old-fashioned Windows 8 desktop.

Since the ban on Flash also apparently covered Microsoft Silverlight and all forms of ActiveX controls, Silverlight developers felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of desktops had cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. They feared something terrible had happened.

I praised Microsoft at the time for getting rid of Flash. Silly me.

Then in May 2012, Microsoft unleashed the Windows 8 Release Preview. Mauceri, posting on the Building Windows 8 blog, made another surprise announcement -- Flash would be allowed in Metro IE10, but only on sites listed in a Microsoft-controlled Compatibility View (CV) whitelist of approved sites:

We believe that having more sites "just work" in the Metro style browser improves the experience for consumers and businesses alike. As a practical matter, the primary device you walk around with should play the web content on sites you rely on. Otherwise, the device is just a companion to a PC. Some popular websites require Adobe Flash and do not offer HTML5 alternatives, and this change to the product reflects the feedback that we've heard from customers about their experience with sites that do not offer an HTML5-only experience for Metro style IE. For example, try pbskids.org on an iPad. Some workforce solutions, like Beeline, require Flash. Some financial management sites, like [Morgan Stanley's benefitaccess.com], require Flash. And some sites still deliver their best experience with Flash, such as youtube.com.

We soon discovered that Microsoft had contracted with Adobe to build a version of Flash inside IE -- much the same as Google worked with Adobe to build a version of Flash inside Chrome.

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