PDC happened and Microsoft fouled up the Silverlight message big time. The talk was that Silverlight is dead on the client, based on Steve Ballmer not mentioning Silverlight, and an interview with Bob Muglia published at Mary-Jo’s blog. Actually even we got irritated emails from our own customers, whom we had just convinced that Silverlight is the right choice for RIA applications.
It took some time for Microsoft to realize what fatal message they had sent, but eventually Muglia backpedaled, and from there one it seems that every other Microsoftie and close associate came out to deny the imminent death of Silverlight. So far I’ve stumbled over:
- Steve Ballmer (CEO): http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/press/2010/nov10/11-01Statement.mspx
- Bob Muglia (President, Server and Tools Business): http://team.silverlight.net/announcement/pdc-and-silverlight/
- S. Somasegar (Senior Vice President, Developer Division): http://blogs.msdn.com/b/somasegar/archive/2010/11/01/silverlight-lighting-up-the-client.aspx
- Scott Guthrie (Corporate Vice President, .NET Developer Platform): http://weblogs.asp.net/scottgu/archive/2010/11/04/silverlight-questions.aspx
- Tim Heuer (Program Manager for Microsoft Silverlight): http://timheuer.com/blog/archive/2010/11/01/silverlight-is-dead-long-live-silverlight.aspx
- Jesse Liberty (Senior Community Program Manager in Microsoft Developer Guidance): http://jesseliberty.com/2010/11/02/silverlight-alive-and-well/
Among the non-Microsofties where
- Mary-Jo herself: http://www.zdnet.com/blog/microsoft/microsofts-muglia-reconfirms-html-is-microsofts-cross-platform-play/7854
- Dan Wahlin (MVP ASP.NET): http://weblogs.asp.net/dwahlin/archive/2010/11/01/silverlight-is-dead-the-moon-is-made-of-cheese-and-html-5-is-ready-for-prime-time.aspx
- Jeremy Likness (MVP Silverlight): http://csharperimage.jeremylikness.com/2010/11/silverlight-and-html5-microsofts.html
- Oh, me, by the way: http://flurfunk.sdx-ag.de/2010/11/silverlight-technologie-abkundigung.html (German)
So, just for the record: I sincerely believe that Microsoft is still very much committed to Silverlight as RIA technology for regular (read non-WP7) clients.
Still, as relieved as I am that this mess unfolded that way, it kept me thinking. What if? I mean, what if Microsoft actually had dropped Silverlight on the client…?
Just imagine… What would happen if Microsoft actually had changed their strategy? What if Silverlight was really dead on the client, and “only” the development platform for WP7?
- For the vast majority of regular web applications: Nothing much would have happened. Use cases here include mostly video and advertisement. And due to the availability of the plugin this is the domain of Adobe Flash. With the advent of HTML5, and it’s coverage of video and graphics (canvas) – and none the least the backing it gets from Apple – it should have been clear to everybody with open eyes that HTML5 will be the future in that area. But that will happen at the expense of Flash, not Silverlight!
But from there it would go downhill, and Microsoft would start losing…
- Microsoft would lose a platform for non-typical demands on the web. Demands that go far beyond what HTML5 can deliver. Complex UIs such as car configurators (Mazda), HD video streaming (maxdome). And Silverlight it gaining momentum in the market, not Flash or some other technology.
- Microsoft would lose their platform for RIA applications. In this area HTML5 is of no further relevance at all, rather Adobe AIR and JavaFx are the competition. And in this area Silverlight is way ahead of the completion, both technically in terms of business features, as well as by adoption (usually intranet applications, but also SAP).
- Microsoft would lose the developer base it relies on for Windows Phone 7, and with it WP7 itself. One of the big selling points for WP7 is the fact that WP7 uses the very same platform as is used for RIA, thus every developer using Silverlight instantly becomes a WP7 developer. Ironically, focusing Silverlight on WP7 would take away that advantage. Silverlight would become a platform you have to learn before doing phone development. And since WP7 is just taking off, the future not yet certain, why take the risk? Why not learn Android instead? Who would then build the apps Microsoft needs?
- It gets worse: Microsoft would lose credibility, and the trust of the developer community. This is not a technology at the end of its life cycle we’re talking about. It’s a technology just beginning to take off, and a technology that they told us were strategic! A technology more and more developers are just beginning to adopt, to invest in. If Microsoft dropped Silverlight – without any warning I might add –, how would those developers react? How could they trust Microsoft to be true to what they call “strategic” in the future? I know what I would think.
- Needless to say that this would affect their partners and customers in the same way. Who would invest in any platform if he cannot be sure the platform is maintained for a reasonable time (rather than being dropped at the spur of a moment). And if the vendor cannot be trusted? The platform may be as good as it wants, the first thing to care about is to protect my investments.
- In the end this would include every API, every platform, every offering they have. This specially includes Azure – the very platform Microsoft is betting the company on. Which developer would work against that API? Which ISV would build his software on Azure? Which partner would counsel his customers to use Azure? Which enterprise would rely on Azure with his applications and his data? It’s a strategic platform for Microsoft, sure. But with dropping Silverlight they would just have taught us what that means.
Ultimately Microsoft could lose… Microsoft. Because at the end of the day, credibility is the most important thing. That’s what made this whole thing a marketing fiasco. Not the fact that a bunch of developers and companies sat on the wrong bandwagon. Lose credibility and you lose the company.
Now, all this is hypothetical – I hope I made that clear with my statement above. And it is also just an opinion and certainly exaggerated in some points. But it may very well be the kind of trash and FUD that Microsoft will be experiencing for some time. Which is why I believe that Microsoft will continue to have to do damage control for quite some time to come.