Microsoft to Let Partners Guide Users to Silverlight

Vendor won't bundle Flash rival, hopes users will download tool 'voluntarily'

LAS VEGAS -- As part of its foray into the Web design tools market, Microsoft Corp. is eschewing its usual tactics for encouraging or, as many of the companys critics would put it, strong-arming end users to adopt its technology.

Microsoft isnt bundling its Silverlight software, which it hopes will unseat Adobe Systems Inc.s Flash as the dominant rich-media presentation technology, into Windows or Internet Explorer. Nor is it making the browser plug-in an optional or automatic download via Windows Update.

Instead, Microsoft officials said last week that the company is betting that partnerships with high-profile Web sites will quickly lead to widespread adoption of Silverlight.

We want to get people to voluntarily download, Forest Key, director of product management for Microsofts Web design tools, said at the software vendors Mix07 developers conference here.

Repairing Reputation

Windows Updates reputation was tarnished last year after Microsoft used the service to stealthily roll out Windows Genuine Advantage (WGA) Notifications, its controversial antipiracy tool. Asked if the WGA debacle led Microsoft to avoid using Windows Update now, Key said, Because [Silverlight] is a customer experience, we want to create a positive association, rather than payloading it down.

Microsoft's Web Design Mix

At Mix07, the software vendors said that:
A beta release of Silverlight 1.0 is available now with a go-live license for putting applications into production use.Version 1.0 will ship in the summer as a plug-in for Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari on Windows and Mac OS X systems.An alpha release of Silverlight 1.1 with support for Microsofts .Net framework can also be downloaded now.Expression Studio, a companion set of development tools, is in manufacturing and will start shipping this month.

Key added that Microsoft thinks it can reach 80% of end users worldwide by getting 10 to 15 major online content providers to adopt Silverlight. Thus far, the software vendor has announced deals with three: Major League Baseball, Netflix Inc. and CBS Corp.s TV stations division.

I think that everybody wants Silverlight to take off for the simple fact that a rising tide lifts all boats, said Noah Gedrich, director of engineering at Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Blitz Digital Studios LLC, which creates interactive advertisements. If Silverlight becomes a serious alternative to Flash, it will force everyone to get better.

All thats needed for Silver­light to gain widespread adoption is a single killer app, said Gedrich. As an example, he cited the rapid downloading of Adobes Flash 8 player two years ago, after YouTube Inc. began using it to let Web users watch videos on its site.

Peter OKelly, an analyst at Burton Group in Midvale, Utah, said Microsofts go-slow approach on Silverlight is reasonable. He pointed out that if the strategy doesnt work, the company can still accelerate the softwares rollout by making it a part of upcoming service-pack updates for Windows Vista and Windows XP.

Silverlight was formally announced in mid-April. Microsoft released a Version 1.0 beta last week and said the finished product is due this summer. The plug-in, which promises DVD-quality video, isnt a large download. The size of the 1.0 beta for Windows users is only 1.1MB, and the company said a future 1.1 update will weigh in at 3.5MB.

Eyeblaster Inc., a vendor of digital marketing technology in New York, plans to support Silverlight in its products.

If it took Adobe five to 10 years to get where they are today [with Flash], it will probably take Microsoft less time to get there, said Nir Shimoni, Eyeblasters vice president of product planning.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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