Flash, Silverlight & The In-Between OS

This morning, Microsoft (re)introduced their WPF/E platform (Windows Presentation Foundation / Everywhere) as Microsoft Silverlight. Tim Sneath has a nice summary of the feature set.
If anyone doubted that Microsoft is gunning for the a piece of the Adobe Flash empire, there’s no denying it now. This is a relatively light, cross-platform runtime that will handle visuals, video and appears to upscale nicely from the HTML/Javascript world. It’s Microsoft’s version of Flash.
I think what’s emerging is a new territory that has seldom been acknowledged before: the in-between OS. It’s not web and it’s not your desktop. Now that the bandwidth and horsepower hurdles are out of the way, we’re seeing Microsoft acknowledge the power of a potently powerful little runtime. Adobe has focused on re-architecting Flash to go from “cool graphics engine” to a world class runtime. Apollo is how Flash ends up on your desktop. One of the key features of Silverlight is that all that code will elegantly work in the real WPF world (Vista).
For Microsoft, this is all about upsell. If they can get web developers to slowly peek their head into the WPF world, it’s a big win for them. Ultimately, they want you on Vista. This may well be where Adobe’s advantage lies: there is no “light” version of Flash. All the capabilties are everywhere. To really light things up in WPF, you need to be on Vista.
As for the learning curve, Microsoft doesn’t have to deal with any old baggage since this is new stuff. The result is a platform that will probably feel more familiar to HTML/Javascript/Ajax developers. WPF/E seems to build upon the same development paradigm that web developers have gotten accustomed to while the Flash/Flex/Actionscript world requires a fair amount of re-learning.
Oddly (but not surprisingly), the press (and Microsoft’s PR) seems to be focusing on the video features of WPF/E (cross platform, HD, etc.). This part of the story will be pretty interesting. I guess the day is coming when video will not require a browser open and an Internet connection. That’s a good thing.
Microsoft has always had a huge advantage when dealing with competition because they owned the arena (i.e. the operating system) and exclusively possessed the transit system (the precious OS API’s). That’s changing. The success and ubiquity of Flash is forcing Microsoft to think in a leaner, more portable, cross-platform way. Nobody should underestimate Microsoft’s skill or tenacity to compete, but in this case, they’re clearly the visiting team.

4 Comments Flash, Silverlight & The In-Between OS

  1. Marcel

    How about Flash being the visiting team on the desktop?
    We’ll see how Apollo works out, but keep in mind that desktop developers have their choices of IDE and languages, and Apollo needs to do one hell of an integration job with those if they’re gonna be adopted there.
    You say this is all about upselling Vista to developers.
    To me as a Windows based developer it feels like a gift to be able to build a Flash-like experience that just plugs in to a platform that contains such things as Windows Media servers, Visual Studio, SQL server, IIS, .NET.
    My point is, if you’re using MS tools to do your things, you’re gonna be looking into this and most likely using it.
    It is unclear how this is enticing me to buy Vista or produce Vista only software. On the contrary … I can use the Silverlight control in any application and run it on any OS that supports Silverlight.
    Yeh there is a migration path up to WPF, which is cool. But even WPF is not a Vista feature. It’s a .NET 3.0 feature. You can run WPF apps on XP np.

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  2. Sigmund

    Good luck with that, Marcel. Have you even tried the examples on silverlight.net? Most of them don’t work, and the worst of the lot simply crash your browser. Silverlight is all smoke and mirrors. You will never get experiences in the realm of good Flash apps, since the runtime is based on Javascript. Slow, slow, slow. Yeah, you can code in C#, Python, Ruby, or whatever, but what’s the point? I guess if your users don’t mind a 16MB download, and are cool with simplistic animations, then sure maybe Silverlight is right for you.

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  3. DannyT

    Sigmund, you’re actually incorrect there. The alpha of Silverlight was JavaScript only, the 1.1 release supports a subset of CLR and does NOT require the full .net install. Plus C# is infinitely faster than JS all in a download comparable in size to the Flash Player.
    You will only shorten your own shelf life by being blinkered to any new technology that threatens our beloved Flash. As demonstrated by Flash, we developers should stay platform agnostic and not jump on the slating band-wagon before a new technology has had a chance to prove its worth.

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  4. casey stalnaker

    Regardless of how interesting Silverlight may seem to MS developers…it still seems to me that they are missing a big part of the picture.
    To quote Marcel’s earlier post:
    “…as a Windows based developer it feels like a gift to be able to build a Flash-like experience”.
    I have a feeling you are in for some heartache there dude.
    XAML isn’t going to do it all for you…, no more than Flex can. You still need skills with aesthetic mediums (design tools) to even come close to the type of projects you are looking at on the flash side. The best of those are created by “Programming Designer” types, who literally can do it all, with Adobe tools. MS has an uphill battle (…. a gross understatement, imo) when considering the loyalties of the design community to Adobe. You either need to become a graphic designer at some level yourself, and pick up the Expression tools, or keep a team of Adobe developers close by, for the next few years anyway…
    I hate to break it to you, but no one wants a code monkey creating GUI’s, and vice-versa. Granted if you are “both-brained”, then you are the exception to the rule, and you could have a shot at being productive with the MS design suite. But if not, asking designers to use Expression would be like them asking you to target all of your MS web-development on a Mac.
    Adobe-Soft?
    What if MS and Adobe got together so that Flash/Photoshop/Fireworks/Illustrator all exported XAML? The smartest thing MS could do today(imho) is get in bed with Adobe (as opposed to arrogantly claiming to have killed it *smiles*), and start leveraging the army of talent out there already, instead of trying to reinvent the wheel.
    Personally, I think THAT would rock.

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