What happened to Microsoft Silverlight?

Published: 21st August 2008
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About a year ago there was talk about a Flash/Ajax eliminator. Microsoft was unveiling a new competing plug-in that would blow Flash, Ajax, JavaScript, and CSS apparently all out of the water. It was based on the .Net technology, and at the same time was cross browser AND cross operating system compatible.

1 year later, I don't see a lot of talk about it in the tech world, in fact I remember disregarding it completely when it was announce, and I believe most Flash and JavaScript Developers did. Interesting enough, People at the Y Combinator, which invest in web 2.0 and other emerging companies, don't even take in consideration if Microsoft is already in the field when funding a company. They consider seeing if Google is in the field they are trying to get into, and ways t avoid them now. Google has all the power of a multi-billion dollar company, but a lot of the nimbleness and energy of a startup.

So why does not on take Microsoft seriously anymore, even when it looks like this new Silverlight plug-in has the capability to knock Flash out of the water?

It all started when JavaScript was being introduced, and Microsoft came in with their VBscript (Visual Basics) to compete.

The main problem that they faced though was that you had to install VBscript, whereas JavaScript came with the most popular browser, Netscape.

The only reason I had VBscript was because I was at the time creating programs using Visual Basics, this was in the hey-day before Google, and when Yahoo was still very young.

When coding in VBscript it was almost like they duplicated JavaScript and changed some function names; it was an exact clone. At the time there was no IIS server, and either Linux or Unix were all that was known for web server.

I tried running VBscript on my Linux computer, and you can probably guess what happened. Not exactly cross platform compatible. That's my theory on what essentially killed VBscript. If 90% of web servers can't get VBscript installed on it, why would any web programmer use it to create program?

Microsoft tried to keep JavaScript broken for a long time. When they started gaining market shares of during the browser war they made website running with JavaScript almost impossible to run. Obviously this was not a great experience during the browser wars. They wanted to implement their own standards on people like they did with operating system. But like a tree branches that grown over a chain-linked fence, JavaScript adjusted itself and their loyal developers created libraries of code that allowed it to function smoothly on any browser and platform. In the end, Microsoft's attempt to break it, made JavaScript more stronger, durable, and tested in every environment.

Microsoft then created a process for the IE browser to update a user's Outlook email program and communicated with Outlook for email purposes, without refreshing the browser.

This decision would soon bring about the greatest explosion of technology the web had seen to date. This new technology that Microsoft created would allow new companies to compete directly with Microsoft's core business. What was this new technology that would unravel Microsoft's core business? Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, AJAX, if you will.

The premise behind AJAX is that is can "request data" from a web server without having the browser refresh to display this new data. On the Internet that's huge! The whole backbone of AJAX is the XMLHttpRequest object, which Microsoft created.

AJAX has created great opportunities in the advancement of the Internet. Programs like Excel, and Word, now have an online alternative like Google Docs. Advanced email programs now live online like Gmail. Photo editing can now be done online with Adobe Photoshop Express.

What AJAX has brought is the ability to do any thing you normally would need a specific operating system to do, all online. So now you can work on your docs, photos, and pretty much anything else online, from anywhere in the world, with any browser, on any operating system. Thanks Microsoft!

Now what does this have to do with Microsoft's Silverlight? If you look at the example, when the first time they tried to Kill JavaScript, it released a new wave of technology that has the potential to take out Microsoft's core business. No longer are people bound by the limits of the operating system. They can now edit files outside of Excel and Word and still allow them to be read by other users.

You can determine that by trying to take out Flash, JavaScript, CSS, and AJAX all at the same time will create some new technology that will start then eventual fall of that whole company.

The problem with Microsoft is that they are not trying to please the end-users whenever they enter a new field; their only mission seems to be to monopolize the field with their technology, and force it upon everyone else, even if it's broken.

You can get away with that when you control the whole environment, like they did with their Windows operating systems, but when you are no longer are rainmaker in this new environment, you cannot impose your will onto others. Microsoft would be better off trying to create a better user experience by incorporating intuitive user functionality like their rivals Apple and Google.

Another thing I learned is that they only way to created a Silverlight application you have to use Visual Studio 2008. With Ajax, all you need is a notepad-based program. As a developer you literally would have to change the environment you program in to create a Silverlight application.

If you got to http://www.microsoft.com/silverlight, just trying to figure out what it is capable of means you have install their plug-in. I had to download a 100 MB file, just because they refuse to acknowledge the existence of Flash Video Players, or QuickTime just to play their videos.

If I as a developer cannot figure out how I can use their product, without having to install their product, how many people are going to jump on ship?

If Microsoft tries to compete with the existing standards like Flash, Ajax, CSS, a JavaScript at this stage is like shuffling deck chairs around on the Titanic.

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