When I think of Microsoft, I imagine a big fat gambler strolling into the casino in a three-piece suit and a cigar. He saunters up to the roulette table, drops a pile of $100 chips and proceeds to put a chip on every number, black and red. He can’t lose.
Microsoft is in that enviable (or despicable, depending on your view on things) position of being able to address, attack and react to every single strategic threat that comes its way. It has such vast resources that it doesn’t really need to sit down and think about which strategy is best. It can simply deploy them all.
Microsoft has just released Silverlight. What is Silverlight you ask? It’s essentially a “cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in for streaming video, games and other multi-media content” (Beet.tv’s words). In other words, it’s a Flash knock-off that the world didn’t really need.
So why would Microsoft build Silverlight?
Consider this: Adobe just released numbers that show a 90.3% penetration for its latest version of Flash (version 9). What sort of real numbers does this translate into? Over 2.5 billion installations. Vista, on the other hand, has seen 60 million licenses ship by the end of June 2007. Now, it isn’t entirely fair to compare a full-blown operating system to a lightweight runtime like Flash, but Microsoft is concerned nonetheless. Adobe has larger plans for Flash. They see it on the desktop (via Adobe AIR) and as a platform for building business applications (Adobe Flex). They also see it eventually running on smaller devices.
The world doesn’t really need Silverlight. If you run down its feature list, it doesn’t really bring anything new and innovative to the table. While some heralded its “immediate importance,” that’s feeling like a whole lot of hype at this point. Truth is, its just another $100 chip on the roulette table. It’s a hedge that may well slow down and potentially eat into a competitor’s market share. As for consumers, it brings little of value and maybe some unnecessary confusion.