Is Silverlight stalling?

Microsoft is naturally bullish, but as with JavaFX, the uptake is in a very early stage

Bad economy or not, Microsoft remains bullish on its Silverlight plug-in technology for rich Internet applications. While a recent report suggested the economy was stalling Silverlight adoption, Microsoft is undaunted. "We have this vision that Silverlight is going to go everywhere and be kind of a universal UI layer that's available," says Brad Becker, a group product manager in the Microsoft developer division. The Netflix video service recently adopted Silverlight for streaming movies. MySpace also recently hopped on the Silverlight bandwagon, letting MySpace developers build custom OpenSocial applications using Silverlight.

Microsoft recently released a beta of Silverlight 3, which adds, among other things, out-of-browser capabilities so that Web applications can work on the desktop, and H.264 video support. A general release of Silverlight 3 is planned for later this year.

[ Learn all about rich Internet app develoment in the InfoWorld Test Center's guide to RIAs. Reviewed: Silverlight and JavaFX. ]

Becker dismisses the notion that Silverlight might be hit any harder than any other technologies in the current recession: "The economy is having a chilling effect on everything right now," Becker says. "It's having an effect on AIR adoption." (The Adobe Integrated Runtime, or AIR, product competes in some contexts with Silverlight.) And he claims not to have seen much competitive pressure from another up-and-coming rich media applications platform, Sun Microsystems's JavaFX.

Although Becker cites a large number of Silverlight downloads, it has not been all smooth sailing. Major League Baseball selected and then abandoned Silverlight, opting for Adobe's Flash technology instead. Starting this season, MLB will use Flash for online streaming of games after previously using Silverlight. "What it came down [to] was that Flash provides a TV-like experience," says Matthew Gould, MLB's vice president of communications. Scalability also was a requirement, he says, but declines to say that Silverlight lacks scalability.

Silverlight does not yet run on mobile devices, although Microsoft is working on that, Becker says. Plans include making it available on Microsoft's Windows Mobile OS and on the Nokia S60 line of smartphones. A private beta of Silverlight for mobile has been available to independent software vendors.

"I think [Silverlight is] great" because more can be done with Silverlight and it is easier to use, says Brian Treese, graphic designer at CoutoSolutions, which offers services such as custom Web development. But "we haven't had any customers come to us and say they want to use it yet," he adds.

Damir Tomicic, managing director for business development at Axinom, which builds public-facing Web sites, praises how Silverlight 3 adds out-of-browser capabilities to its Internet-based functions. "Finally, we're able to provide our customers HD streaming on the Internet [in the PlayReady format] approved by the studios," he says. "We used Flash in the past. It [had] a pretty bad programming model," Tomicic adds.

Microsoft has been collaborating with Soyatec to enable development for Silverlight on Eclipse. Work also is being done to making Silverlight more interoperable with PHP Web applications. But NetBeans developers remain out in the cold: Microsoft is not doing anything to support Silverlight development in the Sun-dominated NetBeans open source development platform, acknowledges Vijay Rajagopalan, principal architect in the Microsoft interoperability team.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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