Year's end: Microsoft to heat up battle vs. Flash in '08
IDG News Service - Every good general knows that even the biggest army is useless if you can't get it on the battlefield.
Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. will both experience a version of this dilemma in 2008, as they wrangle for market and mind share in the burgeoning rich Internet application (RIA) space, according to observers close to the companies.
"They both have their own power positions," said Forrester Research Inc. analyst Jeffrey Hammond, citing Flash's installed base, which has been pegged in the 90% range.
"The one place that Microsoft holds a wild card is with developers. There still are not that many Flex developers out there," Hammond added, referring to Adobe's tool set for RIA applications. The company is also developing the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which lets Web developers build RIAs that can run on the desktop.
Of course, Microsoft's worldwide legions of programmers don't pose a great advantage if not enough users install Silverlight, its cross-platform browser plug-in for RIA applications.
"They need to get Silverlight on 70% to 80% of the Internet-connected machines," said Greg DeMichillie, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
One of the quickest ways to do that would be to ship the next version of Internet Explorer with Silverlight already embedded. But Hammond said this is unlikely, because doing so would likely prompt cries of outrage from competitors and perhaps antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft.
Microsoft has instead tried to seed usage of Silverlight through other tactics, such as getting high-traffic Web sites like NBA.com to use it. That, in turn, compels site visitors to install the plug-in.
Silverlight 1.0 focuses largely on streaming media and therefore has more relevance for consumer-facing projects than enterprise IT shops.
That all changes with the next version, which is expected in beta form early next year. "Silverlight 2.0 is where it gets interesting," Hammond said.
The next release includes a subset of Microsoft's .Net Framework, meaning the company's vast base of developers can program against it using familiar .Net languages as well as tools like Visual Studio.
The company has also aimed at Adobe's sweet spot -- graphic design applications -- with its Expression line of products.
Adobe, on the other hand, may not have an adoption problem for its plug-in, and already has won the hearts and minds of graphic designers everywhere but is not nearly as strong in tools as Microsoft.
"The biggest thing Adobe needs is to bring FlexBuilder up to date with modern developer tools," said DeMichillie. "I would say they are two years behind Visual Studio."
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