Bill Gates on Flash and Silverlight (Conversation Part IV)

Dec 07 2007 Published by under Flash

So, finally, here is my question. I had a lot of different ideas about what to ask Bill, and even in the few minutes while he was answering the questions of the people before me, I was considering alternatives. But in the end I went with the first question I had thought up, relating to Flash and Silverlight and where he saw things heading. I’m not sure what I expected, perhaps for him to do an Ice Cube and say Flash is outta here, or just a straight up PR answer.

His answer kind of surprised and disarmed me. While it could be seen as straight up non-confrontational PR, I thought it was pretty insightful, and presented the viewpoint I hadn’t totally considered – that of the end user, who could really care less about the battle between Flash and Silverlight, as long as when they go to a web page, it works. Of course, I would have loved to ask a ton of follow up questions about penetration rates and sizes of plugins, etc. but my time was up. Anyway, I got to ask a lot of those questions to Scott Guthrie earlier in the day.

One thing that kind of bugged me, particularly in reading over the transcript later, was how he kept referring to users of Flash and Silverlight as designers. Trust me, I am not a designer.

Anyway, I will say that the day’s events did get me to see that Silverlight is going to be around for a while, and while it may or may not be a “Flash Killer”, I would be wise to learn a bit more about it.

Keith Peters: So, I’m a Flash developer, and obviously one of the interesting things here is hearing more about Silverlight. In the Flash community Silverlight is seen kind of as a threat, and obviously big competition, and has been labeled a Flash killer. So, I was just wondering what your view of the future of Flash and Silverlight and if you see Silverlight toppling Flash or a world where they come together and have their own spheres of specialization or —

BILL GATES: Well, visualization runtimes, there’s no exclusivity whatsoever; that is, Silverlight will run on your Mac, it will run on a Windows PC, and you as a user, you don’t even know, when you go to a Web site, if it uses Flash it uses Flash, if it uses Silverlight it uses Silverlight; you don’t have any clue about that. So, it’s not like word processors or operating systems where you as the user you might decide to use two, but it’s a complete pain to learn all the commands and the differences and all these things.

So, there’s a tendency with operating systems or word processors that if two are very similar, one will get ahead, and once something has high market share, the other one has to be pretty phenomenal to come in and contest that, because there’s just huge switching costs for the user.

For an end user there’s zero switching costs. We’re going to get Flash downloaded onto everything in the universe — Silverlight downloaded on everything in the universe just like Flash. There will be that runtime everywhere. It’s small, it’s no big deal. It used to be that memory was so limited, that you couldn’t have multiple of anything, but here it’s just fine.

So, the choice is much more at the designer level, and I don’t know whether we’ll — we’re just investing in it, we think it’s a really great thing. Scott knows a hundred times more about it than I do.

But what is the model? Is it just going to be better than Flash, and take share away at the designer level? Is it going to be better at certain things like when you want programming logic related to it because we’re very good at that? Will it be better just in the Windows environment and about the same everywhere else, because we’re good at doing that integration? It’s hard to say.

The idea that there is some competition at that level, you know, maybe that’s a healthy thing. Maybe the Flash guys will go fix a few things. I hope not. (Laughter.)

So, end users won’t know, designers will know, and today designers are 90-some percent Flash, and X percent Silverlight where it’s some tiny little number. So, over the next years, as people see these pieces roll out, they’ll get an opportunity.

I think most designers want to try a different environment. I mean, why not take a project, go and try it; is it really a lot simpler, is it hard to switch? People want there to be some variety there, because there are different paradigms in terms of how you present things, and we’ve taken some different choices. I mean, Flash, the decisions were made before the Internet existed. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily terrible, but we got to look at a lot of more modern things when we made the choices about how Silverlight is designed, so that at least that ought to intrigue people a little bit.

23 responses so far. Comments will be closed after post is one year old.

  • […] Hmmmm…. Check it out here.  […]

  • John Dowdell says:

    Thanks for the links, Keith — easier than the .DOC — hope you had fun.

    What’s interesting for me in the above is that he still doesn’t explain why Microsoft is investing in a new browser plugin, instead of using the advanced capability already deployed to over 90% of the world’s computers today. The most tenable hypothesis for this undiscussed elephant-in-the-room is “we want total control”. He could have helped his case by setting the overall context.

    That “before the Internet existed” line is, uh, remarkable…. 😉

    tx, jd/adobe

  • kp says:

    Yeah, the “before the internet existed” thing isn’t quite accurate, but I get what he was trying to say. 🙂

  • Phillip Kerman says:

    Regarding “why Microsoft is investing in a new browser plugin, instead of using the advanced capability already deployed to over 90% of the world’s computers today”

    Well, it’s not exactly like there are a ton of opportunities for MSFT to use/invest/embrace etc… Flash.

    I don’t agree that there’s not really a competition for users. If installing another plugin is no big deal then I’d have a bunch of other crappy plugins right now. He’s right, of course, that the MAIN competition is for creators (designer/developers). I’ll be hard pressed to go play around with Silverlight just to experiment… sure, I’d love a project that justified the learning.

    Oh, and the competition is totally great. I think many at Adobe not only say that but also believe that.

    Thanks for posting.

  • kp says:

    as far as the plugins go, from my conversation with Scott Guthrie, the strategy is go get say, 20-30 big name sites where Silverlight content will be an integral part of the site. is one of the biggest ones now. You want to view baseball on the web, you’ll probably install the Silverlight plugin. I think they also have some other sports sites. That will certainly drive a certain amount of installs. Depending on what other sites they have, it could make a decent dent.

  • John Dowdell says: did move their Windows Media workflows to the new Microsoft plugin, but the majority is still SWF:

    They get strong press off things like this: “I know of a number of applications that are held back for the launch, but you’ll see in the above list a growing list of big names starting to add Silverlight support, including AOL, Discovery Channel and Major League Baseball.” is mostly SWF. is harder to search for Silverlight, but has tons of Flash. also gave them press, but:

    Being able to show Windows Media files in a modern, non-obtrusive fashion keeps their server revenue up. In a few years it may also help keep Visual Studio sales up too. It’s hard to see other drivers.


  • soleil says:

    Maybe Microsoft should just simply ship IE with the plug-in preinstalled, or in some update of IE. That would be a boost in availability. Also the above mentioned sport site trick is a good idea.
    So all in all, I don’t think flash has too much advantage in deployment.

    BTW thanks for sharing this, greets, s.

  • I see so many parallels between what Adobe is doing with AIR and what MSFT is doing with Silverlight. Adobe is taking the wealth of web developers (designers) currently working on their web platform technology and extending their path to the desktop. You may call it brand loyalty, but many Adobe developers (designers), who may otherwise have never been interested in building apps for the desktop, are now doing so because Adobe has provided a low barrier of entry to do that.

    MSFT has a dominant desktop development community already (ASP, .NET, WPF). By offering Silverlight, it seems they are just extending their ‘branded’ development approach to their own community — with the obvious intention to grow that community with traditionally non-MSFT developers.

    I think the major difference there is that I’m sure a lot of MSFT desktop developers have been looking for and asking for a low barrier entry point to build web apps — but they wanted that MSFT branded approach.

  • kp says:

    MLB may have a lot of Flash on their site, but their main line video player is definitely Silverlight.

    God, I sound like I’ve totally drank the koolaid and am pushing Silverlight! I’m still a hard core Adobe fanboy, don’t worry!

    Soleil, don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll work out a way to bundle Silverlight with future versions of IE.

  • Phillip Kerman says:

    Chuck, do mean WPF is like AIR?

    John, using your argument “majority still stays SWF” one would have to ask why Adobe even bothers creating software for Mac?

    My clients definitely care about the fact .swf is everywhere–but for certain this is only one of the reasons they pick a particular technology. Another huge reason is the core functionality. In the case of Flash it offers a ton… so that’s why it’s often chosen. Naturally, the developer experience with the technology matters too. All these things matter. Total cost of maintenance is another huge thing.. which is hopefully addressed with video solutions from Adobe.

    But, man, if I had a job where there was some marked benefit of Silverlight I very much doubt it would die solely on the fact the plugin isn’t as popularly installed. Also, consider the fact that Silverlight could very well get to Flash’s penetration numbers… then would you say “oh, Adobe is going to embrace Silverlight”? Of course not–there are other factors too.

  • John Dowdell says:

    Sorry for the hijack….

    “John, using your argument “majority still stays SWF” one would have to ask why Adobe even bothers creating software for Mac?”

    No, it’d be more like saying “Adobe made a release for Linux so Mac and Win are in decline”.

    Microsoft is getting great press on having a small part of replace Windows Media Player with the Silverlight plugin. The way these sites actually handle the majority of their content is not, however, news.


  • markval says:

    If I am not wrong in reading correctly between the lines, IE8 is going to be a major update of the IE experience.

    Bill is investing in the future of collaborative workflow over the cloud. Tamarin is embedded in the next Firefox release. The core of Silverlight will be in the IE8 to… it has to be and it will be bond to Vista for sure. Then IE will run with the platform and not the inverse. If he want 3D on the web like he said it’s going to be… think about it.

    Look what they have done with WPF and they are just starting at it. I have been using Flash for the last 7 years or so and seeing the mashup of the platform with the players is great news for any developer or creation technologist that wants to push the limits. It simply erases some layers between the core and the user, making the whole process go faster.

    Look at mobile phone and how Android works.. like the first Idea behind Miscrosoft its all about making things easier and faster for everybody.

    What do you think about this?

  • Sally C says:

    Keith, I absolutely loved reading your whole series of posts on this trip.

    I’m an animator who loves all the possibilities of interactive animation. I guess I’m also a slow learner. After stumbling through Colin Moock’s ActionScript 3 for the third time, (and I never get past page 80), I’ve abandoned it. And I like writing code. I’m sure hoping there’s going to be an alternate method of coding for the animator/designer who can’t get a wrap on packages. (I realize I can still use old timer code.) Just an alternate point of view.

  • tomsamson says:

    I´m an active member of the flash platform community for ages (since flash 3 days) and am dealing with it every day and i see comments like Sally´s popping up every day, so to me it looks more and more like Adobe people are doing everythig (well, most 🙂 ) they can to keep flash platform DEVELOPERS happy (and attract more developers coming from other languages), while at the same time not doing enough to keep their more interactive designer oriented people happy.

    The language and workflow is brought so close to others like Java that sure many from those may switch over to the flash platform with more ease; at the same time it could also lead to more longtime flash platform content creators with time thinking about whether that other thing where the language/environment is getting very similar in complexity etc maybe isn´t the better choice for them on some ends.

    For most of those interactive designer/non oop people coding in AS3 to gain performance or do custom filters in some custom language is no choice, many of those chose flash in first place because it enabled them to do slick interactive stuff without having to be pro oop people and many of them wonder about getting more and more graphical and other toys but not beeing able to use those a lot as in the language and creation manner they can deal with most of those things don´t run in propper performance when used a lot (or just don´t work at all (or are not available) right off the go).

    Next up its in my eyes a big mistake that Adobe (back then Macromedia), who was one of the first to have a usable both graphical work and coding side work mashup allowing IDE with such a flexibility as the flash IDE, is now degrading that tool as graphic designing only tool and if someone wants to really propperly develop apps, games, whatever he should better get another tool, because yeah, Flash IDE won´t be propperly developed further on those ends.
    Doesn´t make it easier for such people to get into or work with AS3.

    Its like saying: you designers are graphic designers only now, not anymore people who can create interactive stuff, too; just the monkeys who create the graphical assets for which the developers (,who now should become code monkeys only in return and) add the interactivity/ business logic (but don´t touch the visual side anymore other than for code side only made low level effect demos or working with components or creating/working with complex frameworks all day).

    Unlike some other technologies/platforms there wasn´t such a seperation between designers (and what they could do (how)) and coders (and what they could do (how)) on the flash platform in the past and while some coders who had to fiddle around with spaghetti code a designer did in the past may see it as advancment that such a seperation is now embraced, i think a majority of the flash platform content creator base would not agree.

    And i wondered about one of the comments above about AIR, first of all that is something quite different than Silverlight and second i don´t think its really that approachable to designer people to use it if only AS3 is supported in the way it is now.

    AS3/VM2 itself has lots of improvements on all ends but its set up in a way in which its not really that approachable for designers/non pro oop people/visual creation manner people who are not into dealing with classes, strict data typing, how the garbage collector works etc etc.
    (With several tweaks on IDE and language side it could be made more approachable for them, as it is it isn´t really approachable for them).
    I often try to bring up feedback on such topics on Adobe´s site and elsewhere, hope its partially realized.
    I´m not a lot into jumping over to Silverlight right away either, but yeah, i think competition is good, too, and yeah, Bill has a point with saying that to the end user it doesn´t matter with which technology something was made as long as it does what he expects it to do in a way he likes.

  • Iain says:

    @sally c

    I know how you feel (I went through this with external classes in AS2, after resisting for as long as I possibly could). Moock’s book probably isn’t the best starting point for learning AS3 – I recomend just finding the simplest AS3 tutorial you can on the web (Hello world!) and working your way up. It helps if you know/work with someone who can help you learn. Either way, if you enjoy writing code then you will crack it eventual, and then it’s happy land again!

  • Sally C says:

    Thanks, Iain. Senocular has some recommended tutorials but I find it easier to learn from books.

  • Sally C says:

    maybe I should buy one of bit’s- yes!

  • […] Попаднах на  доста  интересно интервю как един Flash Developer  пита шефа на Microsoft за Silverlight. […]

  • […] Bill Gates on Flash and Silverlight […]

  • Microsoft needs to work on the installation routine for Silverlight. If people have to restart their browser they may not come back to our site! We are planning to use Flash Video until this problem is solved.

  • Jane Carter says:

    I find it difficult to believe that Bill Gates doesn’t want to wipe Flash off the face of the Earth. It really isn’t clear why else Microsoft would introduce a competitor which will confuse the market and dilute the base of developers.