Microsoft’s lukewarm backing for Silverlight was very evident at the opening day of MIX this year. Where do they think that are going and do they expect us to follow?
MIX is Microsoft’s designer/developer conference and is taking place this week in Las Vegas, but despite the fact that Silverlight is due for a significant release this week, no mention of it was made in the opening keynote.
The headline announcements concerned the first platform preview of Internet Explorer 10, despite the fact that this is only a month since the launch of IE9. It also seems a bit premature given that Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Internet Explorer, said that “We’re about three weeks into development of IE10”.
It makes you wonder what there is to preview and indeed it does seem to be more of the same!
At the conference, Microsoft talked up IE’s advantages in being native on Windows, saying that
“IE10 continues on IE9’s path, directly using what Windows provides and avoiding abstractions, layers, and libraries that slow down your site and your experience.”
Of course IE along with Windows Media Player making use of native Windows facilities is another way of saying "not on XP".
More generally, IE10 has increased support for HTML5 and CSS3. The backing of HTML5 within Microsoft seems to be winning over Silverlight.
A session called HTML5 for Silverlight Developers held at the conference was packed out with developers wanting to know just what development environment Microsoft is recommending they should be using, but Microsoft senior technology evangelist Giorgio Sardo told the attendees that he’s sure they know their customers better than anyone else and he’s not going to say whether SIlverlight or HTML works better. However his message seemed quite clear:
“HTML5 has matured a lot in the last year. Silverlight is great for media scenarios. I believe HTML5 is ready. I think Microsoft is ready for HTML5. The question is are you ready?"
Despite repeated descriptions of Silverlight as great for developing for Windows Phone, the message to attendees to last November's PDC that HTML5 will be the “lingua franca” for websites and applications is still well-remembered. When developers asked Sardo whether Microsoft is backing off from seeing Silverlight as a cross-platform framework his answer was evasive but less than encouraging for developers committed to SIlverlight:
"Regardless of politics, what matters is the user experience. We want developers to be able to offer their users the best experience."
The problem for Silverlight developers is that the software is superior to HTML 5 as a development environment, but Microsoft seems to be putting its money behind HTML 5. Promises of development tools that do the job aren't the same thing as actually having Visual Studio say or even Expression Blend.
In a further display of the problems Silverlight faces, its ties with Expression Blend look equally unpopular. Attendees at MIX have noted that all the software samples are written in Visual Studio, ignoring Expression as a possible environment in which to work.
So far all we have are Microsoft's assertions that HTML5 etc. can do the job and a few impressive demos but with no indication of how long or how hard they had to work to create them. Without tools HTML5 is no alternative to Silverlight.
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