Having spent the early part of this week at Microsoft's MIX07 Conference and being there for the launch of Silverlight, I've been mulling over what's really going on. There's been a lot of discussion on-line so far, but I think most of it is missing the point.
However, before I get into it, I'll respond to a few comments I've seen so far.
John Battelle, trying to grok this, is asking Does This Change The Web? No, John. At least not right away and not in the ways you might think. Microsoft still hasn't figured out that the web is too large for even it to move. It certainly may change thousands of corporate intranets around the world, though.
Simon Willison, reacting to Mark Pilgrim's Silly Season, says "The fawning over Silverlight and Apollo is incredibly short sighted." and he's right but I'm not sure if it is for the right reasons.
Speaking of Mark Pilgrim, Silly Season is an instant Pilgrim classic (assuming you're a fan of his style--I am). His arguments are mainly focused on freedom (or lack there of) and the proprietary nature of Adobe and Microsoft's offerings. He makes good points in a way that only Mark can.
Nik Cubrilovic, over on TechCruch, recently wrote Silverlight: The Web Just Got Richer which is an excellent and more complete overview that most of what I've seen. In fact, he notes a few things that others almost completely glossed over or failed to see the significance of.
The Big Deal
With that out of the way, you're probably wondering what the big deal about Silverlight really is. Nik hit the nail on the head when he wrote:
Silverlight isnít just animations in applets, far from it - it is a very serious development environment that takes desktop performance and flexibility and puts it on the web.
Bingo. Many folks who watched the demos, most of which were about streaming video and multimedia, probably walked away thinking that Silverlight is little more than Flash 2.0. After all, that streaming, music, and animation is pretty sexy stuff.
But the reality is that Microsoft has their sights set much, much higher. They've been calling themselves a "platform company" for many years now--and with good reason. Until the web came along, they controlled "the platform" (Windows) that virtually all new applications were deployed on. When the Web came along they didn't take it too seriously at first. But then they did. Very seriously.
What happened? They created Internet Explorer and gave it away for free. That essentially put Netscape out of business and kept Microsoft as the dominant platform provider (for end users... Linux on the server is a whole different story).
Here we are several years later and things are different. Microsoft is forced to adapt in a world where the browser the platform and Macintosh computers are becoming increasingly popular among those who build web-based applications outside the corporate firewalls.
Microsoft, being a platform company and a very smart strategist, had to think long and hard about how to use its strengths in this new environment. How could they capitalize on the popularity of apps delivered in the browser, dynamic scripting languages, and streaming media?
They've decided to change the game--or at least bet that the game is changing. When they deliver a browser-based version of Microsoft Office, you can bet your ass that it'll be built to run in the .NET CLR that Silverlight offers. It'll work in Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, and maybe even Opera. On both Macs and Windows boxes.
And probably on mobile devices using Silverlight Mobile (on all those smart phones running Windows Mobile).
The browser is the new desktop and Microsoft is hoping that the CLR and Silverlight in general will be the new Win32 API and/or virtual machine. And they're doing it in a way that only Microsoft can: by delivering full documentation, debugging tools, very large partners, and a world-wide network of trained evangelists and support staff. Say what you will about the company, but they know how to roll out software to developers. They've been doing it for a very long time.
That's really what this is about. It's not about competing with Flash. Microsoft is thinking much bigger than people seem to be giving them credit for.
Now don't be fooled into thinking I believe that Silverlight will take over the web. I think it's success as even a Flash killer is highly uncertain at this point. But it's certain to be a big hit inside companies that have major investments in .NET technologies. That's an awful lot of companies and an awful lot of code. But how much we'll see Silverlight being used in "consumer" services is a whole different question.
Either way, this will have some pretty interesting ripple effects.
What do you think?
Posted by jzawodn at May 03, 2007 04:26 PM