Enterprise developers: Don't stop believing in Microsoft Silverlight

Bob Muglia's poor PR prompts post-PDC pledge.

Bob Muglia (Microsoft PR)
     Bob Muglia

It was Microsoft's Professional Developer's Conference last week. What conclusions should enterprise developers draw? What about the future of Silverlight vs. HTML5? Let's dig deeper, in The Long View...

Bob Muglia, Microsoft's Server and Tool Business chief, confused almost everybody, with his quotes on Mary Jo Foley's blog. He seemed to be de-emphasizing Silverlight as a development platform. This and the paucity of Silverlight-related conference content caused some inescapable conclusions.

Muglia seemed to marginalize Silverlight, saying, "our strategy has shifted," and he seemed to talk up the capabilities of HTML5. But that doesn't mean developers should shun Silverlight. Nor does it mean their investments in learning the platform has been wasted.

What Muglia was trying to say -- clumsily -- was that broad cross-platform support was a key original objective of Silverlight, but things don't always work out the way they're planned.

Silverlight was originally known as Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E). The "Everywhere" is key to fully understanding the Silverlight strategy -- the vision was of a modern, secure, .NET/XAML based runtime, that worked across a wide range of computing platforms. Everywhere -- not just Windows.

Four years on, and aside from Windows, it runs on Mac OS, Symbian, Windows Phone 7, and Linux (with some limitations). However, that's not exactly "everywhere" -- it does not run on iOS, which excludes the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch from contention.

Microsoft pushing new Web technologies is nothing new, either. A few years ago, the company was crowing about how it effectively "invented" AJAX. A few years before that, it was encouraging developers to take advantage of what it then called DHTML.

So what happened last week? What caused so many developers to get so agitated over the future of Silverlight? Why did we see so many frothy, "Silverlight is dead" news stories?

Muglia's mea culpa blog post gives the revisionist history, but continues to omit plain-speaking details that would help us understand Microsoft's thinking.

So permit me, dear reader, to read between the lines and say what Muglia's PR handlers won't allow him to admit. Here's are some selected quotes and my translation of them into... y'know... English:

The interview was accurately reported. ... What I said surprised people and caused controversy and confusion. ... I want to apologize for that.

We like Mary Jo, and we don't want to get her into trouble by implying she misquoted me, or sensationalized the thing. Even though she did a bit, and now Ballmer's on my case.

The next release of Silverlight ... will continue to be cross-browser and cross-platform, and run on Windows and Mac.

We're not planning on adding any more platforms. Don't hold your breath for an iOS version, 'cos Jobs is a control freak. As for Android, perhaps we could convince Novell or Xandros to do something with Moonlight? But frankly we don't care about that Linux stuff.

Last week's updates included improvements to WCF RIA Services, as well as the new Portable Library project. ... John Papa delivered a PDC session on building business apps ... and Shawn Burke delivered a PDC session on the portable library project.

Yeah, I know, that's only two sessions, sorry. But they were really good ones. Loads of content. Check them out!

The industry has changed ... we're adapting our Silverlight strategy to take advantage of that.

Suddenly, people seem to be running around with these Apple iDevices everywhere. It seems like all the cool kids are developing for iOS, and we can't get on that platform. Did I mention that Jobs is a control freak? Sometimes, I wish Ballmer would exercise a bit more control, but don't get me started.

So there you have it. Silverlight isn't going away, but let's not pretend that its platform footprint will grow, either. It'll be a cold day in hell before Apple allows Silverlight onto its shiny gadgets.

As for HTML5, that's hardly a full-featured alternative, to say nothing of its lack of maturity. It'll get better, but cross-platform development for it today is likely to be a frustrating experience.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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