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. Iâ€™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 hadnâ€™t totally considered â€“ 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 dayâ€™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 â€œFlash Killerâ€, 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.