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

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In June 2012, Microsoft told Web developers with Flash content that they could get their sites added to the CV whitelist, with a caveat:

We place sites with Flash content on this list if doing so delivers the best user experience in Metro style IE with those sites. For example, how responsive is the content to touch? Does it work well with the onscreen keyboard? Is it battery-life friendly? Do visual prompts comply with the Metro style user experience guidelines? Sites that rely on capabilities that are not supported within the Metro style experience, for example, Flash rollover events and P2P functionality, and don't degrade gracefully in their absence are better off running in IE with Flash on the desktop. "

Developers petitioned Microsoft to have their sites added to the whitelist; ultimately thousands of sites were added. Later in June, Microsoft published details on how to manually add your own list of sites. Doing so wouldn't put the sites on Microsoft's whitelist, but at least you could manually get Flash to run in specific sites on your machines, if you were sufficiently adept to edit a text file.

Then the rubber hit the road. Windows 8 and Windows RT escaped into the wild, and many people (at least many people I know) started complaining. Why wouldn't (insert site name here) work with the Surface RT? Why would (some other site) work with IE on the desktop, but wouldn't work with IE on the Metro side. I didn't hear complaints about big-name sites -- they were all covered by the CV whitelist and worked fine from day one -- but I heard it loud and clear from people who use Flash-enabled sites for work, play Flash games on Facebook, or have kids who like to play Web-based games in general. Some sites worked, some didn't, and it was nigh on impossible to know in advance which would make the CV cut.

That's where things stood until yesterday afternoon, when Maucieri announced on the IE blog, quite unexpectedly:

Starting tomorrow, we are updating Internet Explorer 10 in Windows 8 and Windows RT to enable Flash content to run by default... As we have seen through testing over the past several months, the vast majority of sites with Flash content are now compatible with the Windows experience for touch, performance, and battery life... We believe having more sites "just work" in IE10 improves the experience for consumers, businesses, and developers. As a practical matter, the primary device you walk around with should give you access to all the Web content on the sites you rely on. Otherwise, the device is just a companion to a PC. Because some popular Web sites require Adobe Flash and do not offer HTML5 alternatives, Adobe and Microsoft continue to work together closely to deliver a Flash Player optimized for the Windows experience.

The announcement contains two more surprises. First, Microsoft pulled an about-face and the CV list has suddenly changed from a whitelist to a blacklist: When IE10 running under Windows RT or Win8 Metro hits a Flash animation on a site that's included in the CV list, IE will block playing the Flash animation. (Note that there's no analogous blacklist for IE running on the old-fashioned Win8 desktop.) Second, the change will be implemented through Windows Update -- although, as I write this, it isn't showing on the Windows Update list.

Microsoft also published a detailed MSDN article for site developers that fleshes out two more surprises. First, Microsoft and Microsoft alone controls which sites go on the CV blacklist. Second, "This behavior change requires Internet Explorer 10 to be fully patched with all available security updates." Given the context, it isn't clear if that's an ongoing requirement for IE to be updated in order for Flash to run or if it's a one-time requirement to get IE changed to the blacklist system. Time will tell.

If you're a Silverlight fan, your hopes have just been dashed once again. Microsoft didn't even mention Silverlight in its voluminous posts resurrecting Flash. Not once. As recently as December 2010, Microsoft was actively courting developers susceptible to Silverlight proselytizing. But by May 2011, Silverlight lost its leader and became a dirty word in Redmond's ivy-covered halls.

If you're still anticipating a Silverlight revival, I hate to break the bad news: Silverlight's as dead as any abandoned Microsoft technology. The fact that Microsoft just had a Flash epiphany, and didn't even acknowledge its own developers, speaks volumes.

This story, "Microsoft shuns its own Silverlight while embracing Flash," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

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