On the “death” of Silverlight

Oct 31 2010 Published by under Flash, Silverlight, Technology

This week, Microsoft announced their changing strategy regarding Silverlight. You can read more about that here:

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/microsoft/microsoft-our-strategy-with-silverlight-has-shifted/7834.

[Edit: 10/01/2010]
Note, this post just came out today, which clarifies things a lot. http://team.silverlight.net/announcement/pdc-and-silverlight/
[/Edit]

The key points are that going forward, Silverlight’s focus will be as the framework with which you will create Windows Phone 7 applications. As for Rich Internet/Interactive Applications on the web, Microsoft is going to start pushing HTML 5 as the solution.

A number of my friends on Twitter and elsewhere, members of the Flash community, were virtually high-fiving and toasting to the death of Silverlight. It’s certainly nice to see Flash alive and kicking as yet another “Flash Killer” leaves the ring. But I think I saw things in a bit of a different light.

I don’t think there was any meeting where Microsoft execs sat around saying, “You know, Flash is just too good and popular. We’re never going to be able to compete with it. Let’s just give up. They win.”

I think it was probably a bit closer to this: “You know, in terms of RIAs, HTML 5 does just about everything you need to do. All the best RIAs are made in HTML. And it’s only going to get better. It doesn’t make sense to have a heavy, proprietary web plugin that tries to do the same thing. Let’s just embrace HTML 5.”

I’m talking specifically about applications here. Although they tried a bit in the beginning, Silverlight never really made it into the gaming or more creative types of applications. If anything, it was really a contender to be a Flex killer more than a Flash killer. And while I think HTML 5 has a long way to go in terms of being a real contender for games and more creative types of Flash apps, I think for most common web applications, it’s the real answer. I think every web application I currently use is HTML based. I’m writing this blog post in WordPress, a very complex HTML based app. I make heavy use of Google Documents and Windows Live Office docs. I use GMail and Google Reader, Google Calendar and Google Maps. I use Flickr for photos, Garmin Connect and Daily Mile to log my running, BaseCamp, Bugzilla, and Pivotal Tracker for software projects, etc., etc. All are completely or almost completely HTML. I can’t think of any straight up Flex or Silverlight apps that I use on any kind of regular basis.

Of course, there are video sites, in which Flash and Silverlight is still pretty strong. I’m the furthest thing from an expert in video, so I’m in no position to evaluate how close HTML 5 video is to being a real competitor to Flash / Silverlight video. According to some, it’s there, according to others, not close. But I imagine that any weaknesses it has will soon be shored up.

Again, I still think HTML 5 has a way to go to catch up with much of what Flash can do in terms of rich interactivity. But I feel that in the world of everyday apps, it has won. Rather than taking Silverlight’s “death” as a victory, I think the Flash world, particularly RIA devs, should take it as a warning.

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

  • Clint Modien says:

    I think the push for html 5 is about ads… you can block flash and silverlight… you can’t block html if it’s intermingled with the content.

    • Jacob says:

      You can modify/block html just fine. Greasemonkey, adblock, etc do just that.

      • Clint Modien says:

        if you knew the element id before hand… sure… if not…

        • Actually, you are incorrect Clint.

          Most adverts will be in key spots in the dom tree on a given site; therefore, you can block anything in the dom passed a certain point before it renders, just by knowing which position in the dom tree it was in last time.

          Thus, just as div/iframe containers for flash are easily blocked, without knowing the id, because we know where they usually appear in the DOM tree, so to will div/iframe containers for html 5 ad content.

          • should have used too, instead of to, when I was stating “so too will div/iframe containers for html 5 ad content (be easily blocked).”

          • I would also like to state that even if you randomize the position in the dom, layer order, whilst keeping a similar but not quite the same x and y, you still have the link back to the ad network’s ip, and you can just remove the parent container.

  • What’s a “long way” in our tech world? 1 year. ;)

    • LSaridina says:

      I guess it will take around 5 years for html5 to find its true nature and become the first thing of most people found when they thought about interactive content.
      Flash itself aren’t really popular before AS3 created. People usually get stuck when working on AS2 for a big project, and flash is used mainly just for web-accessories. So Flash is already had a long run before it become the first thing in interactive content.
      Currently I can’t found any tools that bring me closer to html5 implementation easily as adobe done with flash/flex. So the revolution will begin when people at the mainstream industry is start to build these kind of tools for html5.

      Hopefully that I’m wrong though.

  • Agreed, HTML5 can hang just fine in the RIA world. The only thing I can really think of that it lacks is Digital Rights Management for videos.
    Flex (Flash Builder) RIAs are bulky, inaccessible to screen readers, and trivial to the DOM.

  • Cricket says:

    This is exactly right.

    Furthermore, Adobe will almost certainly work out a way to publish HTML5 apps from Flash/Flex. The existing developer base for AS3 is just too big (and profitable) to ignore.

  • I wonder what’s going to happen to Netflix’s Silverlight player. They just released 5.1 surround for the PS3, but if Microsoft is halting/slowing development on their browser plugin, there may be a long wait for surround sound on the pc, among other issues.

  • Personally, I think that Silverlight hasn’t gotten the foothold Microsoft expected it to have. They shot themselfs in the foot with the different, incompatible versions, among other things. Their developer base also waited around a LONG time to see how the penetration rate would be before they started making apps — which only caused a slower penetration rate.

    And then there is a lot of groaning about having to have another subset of the Silverlight platform that they had to deal with (the mobile and the desktop versions are similar, but are different enough where you do need to make a concious decision as to which platform you are targeting. Again, Silverlight is essentially a subset of WPF, causing more fragmentation.

    I don’t see Microsoft saying that HTML5 is the better way to go — I see them as simply giving up on Silverlight for the desktop and pointing people to the next available product. There are still lots of things that Silverlight can do that HTML5 can’t, so it will be interesting to see how Microsoft drives developers to the platform.

  • Rachel Luxemburg says:

    Keith – Given that Microsoft did indeed originally position Silverlight as a “Flash Killer,” it’s not all that surprising for there to be a bit of celebration in some segments of the Flash world at their change in focus this week. In a perfect world we’d all take the high road, but this isn’t a perfect world, and shadenfreude happens.

    I agree that the execs at Microsoft probably didn’t say “Yeah, Flash won, we lost, let’s change focus” when making their decision, but I do think they took a hard look at the current market and realized that while there’s obvious spaces in the broader market for HTML5 and for Flash, the role for Silverlight was much less obvious. Positioning it as the go-to tool for their phones makes a lot of sense.

    Regarding video, one of that major differences between HTML5 & Flash is DRM. HTML5 currently has no provisions at all for serving up protected content, and to high-end content providers, that’s a very big issue indeed.

    Obligatory Disclaimer: all of the above is my personal opinion, not any sort of official statement on the part of Adobe yadda yadda

    • keith says:

      As I said, it is nice that Flash is still standing after another killer has left the ring. But I don’t feel that Silverlight leaving the space leaves Flash in a stronger position. And again, I’m mainly talking about the type of apps that Flex, Silverlight, and HTML competed against each other for.

  • ‘HTML 5 Won’t Be Ready Until 2022′ is the word from W3C: http://blogs.techrepublic.com.com/programming-and-development/?p=718

    In the meantime, a few more Flash Killers can come and go… Lets celebrate…

    • keith says:

      Yeah, I’ve used that line before too, and as ridiculous as it sounds that HTML 5 won’t be “ready” until then, the truth is that it will be in heavy use long before then.

  • Lars Blåsjö says:

    I agree, if anything, the “death” of Silverlight should be regarded as an indication of a possible future scenario for the Flash platform too, rather than being cheered as a victory, and the type of web apps that you mention is not where Silverlight or Flash should compete nowadays, or at least in a near future (although a couple of them use Flash for some features, like file uploaders and such, even GMail loads a swf or two, and Google Maps and Flickr also make use of Flash for some parts).

    In line with how MS says that Silverlight will be used for Windows Phone apps, or how Adobe talks about the Flash platform being used “across multiple screens”, there will still be areas and situations where Flash or Silverlight is the right choice. If nothing else, in situations where how you develop is important, not only how the client is executed, what the runtime is. For example, if you are a .Net shop, a Silverlight app may be a valid choice also for the web, maybe not for broader services for a general public, like the ones you mention, but for apps with a more narrow target audience. The same can be true for Flash.

  • Thonbo says:

    well keith – you compare “basic” html site with flash site – flash was build for showcase sites – and efter flex has come around more app based sites has emerged from the flash platform – but flash is flash not html. And flash will win in the category its best at, and its not blogs, rss or sites where the majority of the content is information – it win in experience…

    this is a pretty old and generally misunderstood discussion…
    flex might be in danger but flash is safe for now –

    “Lets say Internet is like TV, then HTML would be the news/docs, HTML5 -the reality shows and Flash would be the Movies”

    • keith says:

      I think you are pretty much repeating what I said in different words. I agree with you completely.

  • Josh Iverson says:

    Don’t take this the wrong way but you were also the one to say ‘Silverlight is the future’ and made the ‘Dark Side’ blog post.

    I am not a Flash fanboy, but every time I read the controversy between HTML 5 and Flash what I notice is people always talk about what HTML5 “can” be in another year. And in the same breath not mentioning what Flash “can” be in another year.

    I, for one, am not going to spend huge amounts of time and energy (ie Silverlight) on a technology that “can”, and abandon a product that has proved itself. I will keep an eye on HTML5 with interest but I will not say that it is future at this moment.

  • Josh Tynjala says:

    >HTML 5 Won’t Be Ready Until 2022

    Are people actually still making this argument? HTML5 will be supported in browsers long before that date. It probably depends on how fast Microsoft can convince companies to switch to IE9, but still, let’s not pretend that we have 12 years before HTML5 can actually be used. IE9 may not even matter, though, because people are writing JavaScript libraries to hack some HTML5/CSS3 features into IE6.

  • shang says:

    Silverylight was designed to kill Flash/Flex. Since Mr Jobs has done the job, it’s time for Silverlight to retire.

    • Thonbo says:

      flash has just move into the upper league of rich internet entertainment and left html5 behind to replace classic flash tasks such as ad banners -

      http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/flash/molehill/

    • Jacob says:

      I didn’t realize Flash was dead. ‘Mr Jobs’ has affected little of the Flash world outside his iOS universe, IMO.

      • dave says:

        Jacob… that’s a pretty naive statement dont ya think?
        What IOS is showing is that the general population can live without flash and the more they see that the less you will see flash. I am already seeing clients scrambling to replace their flash content with something that their customers can see or use on an IOS devise.

        Flash on android has been a complete dud and people are starting to see what Steve was saying about it.

        Until some company can actually match what Apple’s doing it will be a slow, burning death.

        IMO flash is like windows.. Adobe has done minimal amounts with it.. just enough to sell you new versions and now it’s a giant clusterffffk of swiss cheese and instead of saying “hey we really need to rethink this and make a better product instead of being pissed off because Apple doesn’t want our half-a**ed product”.. hey that’s NOT Apples problem, the problem is Adobes and their responses to this were childish. They need to start from the ground up and build it right just like windows needs to do.

        Don’t kid yourself IOS has a GREAT affect outside his iOS universe. The only people who seem to care about flash are flash developers.. Most of the other developers I know are all high 5′n each other knowing flash is in trouble.

        • Jacob says:

          Naive? Hardly.

          *Passive aggressive apple fan alert*

          (For the record, I think iOS is a great platform that has done some amazing things; but that doesn’t mean shang’s exaggerated statement is accurate)

      • Robert says:

        Agreed. With so many other vendors supporting it now (RIM, Google with GoogleTV, etc), I’m of the opinion that Steve is going to have to eat crow and allow it on iOS one of these days.

  • Virgil says:

    I won’t talk about flash, but I’ve used over the years php/html/javascript/Asp.net and Silverlight. I have to say that – for WEB APPS – Silverlight is by far the best. You don’t see many silverlight apps yet because they are usually LOB’s which are not public. If you want a blog or a presentation site html is fine but for something more complex like a Lob app, it can be done a lot faster and with great results in Silverlight.

  • Leo says:

    HTML has been dominant for applications which does not require a lot of interaction and logic on the client-side. If the client-side of your application basically is made up from a bunch of forms, HTML is an obvious choice. There would be no reason to use Flash as a frontend for Basecamp or Google reader.
    If you just want to add some transitions or avoid reloading the whole page Flash has already been replaced by JQuery and AJAX.

    The main features being added to HTML5 are really video, audio and canvas tags. IMO they don’t make that much difference when it comes to developing applications that do require a lot of logic on the client side, like for example an image editor, an audio sequencer or games. You could code an image editor or games with HTML5 thanks to the canvas, but why would you want to? Creating form based applications in HTML is easy, but what sane person prefers to code the logic of a complex application in JS compared to either AS3 or C#?
    Until JS is updated or replaced I just don’t see HTML5 replacing Flash/Flex as a serious choice for RIA platform. Maybe graphs on Google analytics will be replaced with canvas drawings, but we wont see many applications like Aviary, Sumopaint, Creaza or Audiotool made in HTML5.

    Anyway, I will not be doing any hi-fiving. I would rather have seen MS putting the effort into making Silverlight a competitive RIA platform. While open standards are great in theory, they develop too slowly and is too open to browser vendors deviating from the specification to suit their agendas. While not actually part of the specification, just look at how MS and Apple said they will not ship their browsers with WebM or Vorbis support, and instead support only the codec which they happen to have a vested interest in. I think it would have been better for developers if there was some healthy competition to Flash. Maybe very few applications needs cutting edge runtimes for the client-side, and HTML will do just fine for those, but I still like to see the edge being moved forward as much as possible.

    • keith says:

      Agreed. And I mentioned a few times that Flash is still the best thing for games or more creative type apps, which I would count Aviary and Audiotool.

  • Tim Knip says:

    Agreed.
    Its a sign on the wall that M$ is degrading SL Lots can be said on M$, but not that they’re dumb. Javascript is nearing AS3 speed, WebGL etc. Sure: Flash / SL probably still are faster with vector rendering, code exec etc. But its clear the gap is closing.
    Flash fan I am, but its not looking good. Let alone that a ‘SL demise’ should be applauded.

    Its also a sing on the wall that Adobe goes for “export HTML5″ :) (And why not? I’m not in love with that buggy plugin, I’m in love with getting stuff to work :)

  • Kent says:

    IMHO, what we are seeing here is an evolution of web technology. Remember the days of activex and java applets that flash was birthed in? The companies associated with those days of growing pains are coming to the realization that the will never dominate the web with plugins and propriety. Adobe is not foolish in this respect either and is/will create html 5 authoring tools. M$ is smart enough to realize that html 5 make sense and that though silverlight is a great technology it will serve them better as a desktop application development framework.

  • sascha/hdrs says:

    “You know, in terms of RIAs, HTML 5 does just about everything you need to do. All the best RIAs are made in HTML. And it’s only going to get better. It doesn’t make sense to have a heavy, proprietary web plugin that tries to do the same thing. Let’s just embrace HTML 5.”

    Exactly my thought why Flex as an RIA technology is a lost case! Adobe should rather focus Flex to be a technology to create desktop applications with AIR. That’s where I see a practical usecase for Flex.

  • As I too happily learn some C# and the .net ecosystem including win phone 7 (thank you for the links), I can’t help but wonder how cool it would be if I could program AS3 inside Blend/VS for Silverlight or XNA apps. Could MS make a cross-compiler legally? I never know exactly what ‘open’ means anymore.

  • JLM says:

    Maybe Silverlight is not “dead” but sleeping* like papervision (* mailing list joke ). The sleeping technologies can be the most dangerous. My viewpoint has been for awhile that we should not take a htm5 or flash approach but rather accept that we need to tool up solutions that can serve both using a swfhtml5Object, this is why tool such as Jangaroo seem so interesting, but still biased that haXe approach is better, apparently one guy in japan had a silverlight (js) and flash workflow using haxe. If we have to accommodate users then maybe its time flash seaps out of its box, since html 5 doesn’t tick them all. As for silverlight, m$ never really got the tools right for the designer aspect, so flashers never really tried it, but yer it was a possible flex killer – but never flash and that’s why it is sleeping, but its threat has not disappeared yet.

  • Aubrey Taylor says:

    This whole thing has gotten really overblown. There’s an update to this issue here: http://team.silverlight.net/announcement/pdc-and-silverlight/

    • keith says:

      Yeah, I tweeted about that earlier today. Added the link above just now.

      • Comments there clarify a lot more than the post itself.

        • JLM says:

          “The purpose of Silverlight has never been to replace HTML, but rather to do the things that HTML (and other technologies) can’t, and to do so in a way that’s easy for developers to use.” – Yep still developer only focused, silverlight is all about making the medium powerful for enterprise coders, great if you want to create forms from print designs but rich media has higher expectations even on phones, M$ needs to talk to flashers and designers, interactive designers etc… to make tools that really allow more expressive content, Silverlight is sleeping till they do.

  • So many thoughts but i read your commentary about it and i really don’t think flash is dead. i don’t think any one at adobe is sipping wine and laughing like they might of a couple of years ago ;)

    if you ask me Adobe made a few strategic mistakes in the past few years and it looks like there trying to do damage control and i personally think the past year is one of the most interesting ones on flash end of how its getting ready for the future.

    if you have the time check out this post i’ve just put up on adobe cook books about what i think is happening with flash and why i think its not going away even though i agree with about 70% of what you said i don’t agree with the end line of how flash is a dead horse. The roamers about Microsoft wanting to buy flash doesn’t mean they think html5 is taking over as well by the way ;)

    I think its smarter for Microsoft to sit this war out and support flash even if they don’t buy flash out. i think the historical rules of flash are changing there is no way around it but i think that’s a good thing and i still think flash is live kicking and probably going to kick more then it ever did before

    here is the article(warning its long/very long) and more targeted as a hello world to flash/programing mixed with what i think the future will look like:

    http://cookbooks.adobe.com/post__everythingFLA_Developer_Basics___Should_I_learn_f-18110.html

    p.s if you want to follow me on Twitter I’m @everythingFLA ;)

    • keith says:

      I never said Flash was a “dead horse”. I don’t think it’s anywhere close to death. You misread what I said.

      • well happy to hear that its not.

        I think Flash is live and kicking. I’m grateful for the past year of bashing on flash it woke some people up and got things rolling in very interesting directions.

        would love to get your feedback on my perspective on my post if you got the time ;)

  • Brian Lesser says:

    Hi Keith,

    I enjoyed reading your article and agree Adobe can’t be complacent. As interest in HTML5 accelerates and IE9 ships, Adobe will face lots of difficult technical challenges and timelines if they want to really stay out in front of HTML/CSS/JavaScript and Chrome/IE/Firefox/etc. Microsoft getting behind HTML5 is going to make it a lot harder.

    But I also think people at Adobe can feel some satisfaction in what they’ve done with the Open Screen Project. There was a big difference between Adobe Max and Microsoft’s PDC this year. Adobe was able to show Flash and AIR running on higher end mobile devices running Android, RIM, and iOS. It’s not perfect coverage (especially on iOS), but it is a much larger reach (and getting better as Android sales accelerate) than what Microsoft was able to accomplish with Silverlight.

    I also think many of Adobe’s people have been on the defensive because of Apple. I wouldn’t recommend celebrating, but I’ll bet they are a little relieved to see progress at Max while a competitor that was gunning for them flounders a little. I think that’s OK too.

    Yours truly,
    -Brian

    • keith says:

      I think you got to the heart of the issue, which is that interest in HTML5 will accelerate, and Adobe will face challenges if they want to stay out in front. That’s the important takeaway, not that anything is a “killer” of anything else.

    • i like your points .

      I just want to add from my perspective there are a few limitations that are still really problematic with html/javasciprt vrs. flash that i just don’t think are going to be solved that quickly. Adobe or who every buys flash out will have ample time to figure things out and it looks like adobe have taken the challenge with both arms hugging HTML5 and investing in the future of flash at the same time.

      i can give a list of things i don’t like about flash and have been fighting to change since it first came out and still isn’t working but it doesn’t change some basic factors that keep me in flash and helps my school get over 200 new members a month its not because its dead people want to know flash- why because its fun what other app can you just get into it make a banner or a cool animation and drop it on the web without learning for years (and yep you can make even better things if you learn for years). that’s leaving a side all the question of where flash should be or not (right sorry i’m getting all protective over flash :)

      Keith good stuff always nice to get so many people react and come back and talk more so rock on you must of hit a few nails on the head in the process ;)

  • peter.w says:

    I thought the idea and algorithm is very important. Language is followed.But I will learn HTML5 to get a good job.

  • Keith, you have already make some clear thoughts by writing “Not fighting your technology war”. I had similar thoughts all the time, i really could comprehend your thoughts by reading this post and made some decisions how to act on several things in present and the future. Don’t go back in time, these thoughts were already the way to go, i think.

    • keith says:

      Nick, do you think I’m contradicting myself in these two posts? I just re-read the earlier one, and I don’t think so. I actually have a bit more respect for HTML5 now than I did then, as I’ve seen some pretty impressive demos. But I don’t think shit post is jumping on any particular bandwagon, or getting down on any specific technology. I respect every technology mentioned here.

  • No, I ve just recognized thoughts, like: ‘Just because Silverlight is (isn’t!) gone, don’t think Flash has won …

    As you did mentioned before, we don’t have to fight any technology war for or against any technology. I am good with all other technologies out there, as well. (Sorry my english is non nativ).

    • keith says:

      Yeah, well, that was kind of my point, nobody won, nobody lost. It’s an ongoing process. Everyone on every platform has to stay on top of current technology at all times.

  • JTtheGeek says:

    “All the best RIA apps are in html5″… Are you kidding me? I’ve been developing enterprise RIA’s for awhile now, and I have to respectfully disagree with you. While I could say all the best simple RIA’s are built in html5, I think as complexity increases your argument decreases. We developed Dedoose (http://www.dedoose.com) an incredibly sophisticated RIA dealing with 100,000′s of objects PER USER. All this data gets loaded into the client, hash maps are built for fast lookup. And there are many many screens for working with and analyzing this data. We use a bunch of customized data grids and tons of custom Axiis interactive visualization charts. I can’t even imagine doing this kind of work in HTML5 at the momment. Maybe I’m missing something like a professional IDE for building enterprise HTML5 applications, but the sheer size and scope of the application seems to far beyond the scope of HTML currently. I was really hoping Silverlight would take off so we could port it to that and have a much faster runtime that would also be multi-threaded and support much deeper hardware acceleration, so in actualality this hurts flash developers a lot. Without Microsoft helping to scare Adobe into fixing their player, I fear little more will be done.

    • keith says:

      First of all, if you’re going to use quotes, don’t misquote me. I said (speaking as I guessed Microsoft might), ” All the best RIAs are made in HTML.” Not “All the best RIA apps are in html5″.

      Secondly, I’m not going to argue with you about what the best apps. You may have written a massively complex app, may have done a really excellent job with it, and I’ll grant you that it was probably far easier to write it in AS3 than in JS. But so what? Can you deny that the vast majority of web apps that millions of people use every day are in fact done in HTML? Name one Flex or Silverlight app that gets anywhere near the amount of use that, say, GMail or Google Docs gets? Also, can you really say Google Docs is a “simple” RIA? Furthermore, I’d like to see anyone try to create a spreadsheet that rivals Google’s in Flex – that has all the features, loads as quickly, and performs as well. Or even a Google word processing document. That is NOT a simple app. Sure, there’s Buzzword, but should we take a poll on how many people use each on a daily basis?

      Again, I’m not trying to say that X is better than Y. Just standing by my statement that almost all popular web apps are done in HTML, that they are often done very well, and are not all just “simple” apps.

  • Si ++ says:

    I really don’t get the whole HTML5 versus Flash thing. I’m a developer who is quite happy using HTML+JS and Flash, and have been doing so for years without feeling any neanderthal-like urges to align myself with one particular technology. I’ve never considered HTML and Flash to be in competition with each other, they actually compliment each other. Yes, HTML5 allows (will allow) developers to do some simple tasks that Flash would normally be used for, and the allows for some basic image rendering/manipulation, but ultimately HTML and Flash are different tools for different jobs, and they both have their pros and cons. A sensible developer will use the right tool for the job at hand.

    Silverlight has never interested me, I personally don’t have any use for it at the moment, but I can see it ending up as Microsoft’s version of Xcode for mobile device development.