Flash's challenges: Microsoft, mobile phones and markups

Blinded by the Silverlight? Not exactly, but the future's still foggy

MLB.com, the official Web site of Major League Baseball, is one of the high-profile destinations that Microsoft Corp. likes to trot out (download Word document) as a user of its new high-definition media player, Silverlight.

The problem with this picture? Apart from the video downloads, virtually all of the site's other interactive multimedia -- including its streaming video -- is still provided using Silverlight's competitor, Flash from Adobe Systems Inc.

Once used mostly to deliver cartoon-style animations, Flash has suddenly become the choice of Web video broadcasters, leapfrogging formats such as Apple Inc.'s QuickTime Movie (.mov) and Microsoft's Windows Media Video (.wmv).

Adobe claims that 70% of Web video today is in the Flash (.flv) format. Major users include YouTube Inc. and its parent company, Google Inc.; Yahoo Video; and MySpace.com.

The only people not using Flash video are "media companies that are being bought, paid and bribed to go to another solution," said Adobe CEO Bruce Chizen during a group interview last week at the company's MAX user conference.

The future of Flash

But behind the bold words, acknowledge Adobe executives, is real concern about the future of Flash. Though Flash is dominant on PCs -- the Flash Player is installed on more than 90% of Web-connected computers, according to Adobe -- it has failed to make much headway yet in the key cell phone market.

Moreover, Microsoft's Silverlight poses a serious technical and marketing challenge to Flash.

"Is there any moment that I am not worried about Microsoft?" said John Loiacono, senior vice president for creative solutions at Adobe. "I always treat them as a formidable foe, if only because they have a huge checkbook and are a monopoly."

Released officially in September, Silverlight trumps Flash in two key areas: video quality and the digital rights management (DRM) technology desired by advertisers and content providers.

Moreover, Microsoft is offering some of the necessary Silverlight server software cheaper than Adobe or, in the case of Expression Encoder, for free. Adobe's equivalent, the Flash Media Server, costs over $4,000.

Rather than automatically distributing Silverlight to Windows users via Windows Updates, Microsoft has inked almost 10 deals with broadcast partners -- enough, it believes, to get Silverlight onto 80% of Internet-connected PCs within a short time.

The adoption of Silverlight "has been great so far," according to an e-mail from a Microsoft spokeswoman, with "downloads right in line with expectations to date."

A market up for grabs

One design firm that is a longtime 100% Adobe shop said it recently met with Microsoft about adding Silverlight to its repertoire.

1 2 Page 1
Page 1 of 2
7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon