Microsoft wrestles with HTML5 vs Silverlight futures

Former Microsoft Silverlight Product Manager Scott Barnes has posted a series of tweets following a visit to Microsoft:

So.. after a week in Microsoft HQ etc.. i have a lot of inside info that just basically puts into question the future of #Silverlight #wpf

he remarks, and then:

Right now there’s a faction war inside Microsoft over HTML5 vs Silverlight. oh and WPF is dead.. i kind of was..but now.. funeral.

Barnes positions it as a fight between Windows/IE9 backing HTML5, and the developer division backing Silverlight. He also suggests that Microsoft is contemplating a classic “Embrace and extend” strategy for HTML:

HTML5 is the replacement for WPF.. IE team want to fork the HTML5 spec by bolting on custom windows APi’s via JS/HTML5

He says further that Microsoft has “shut down the designer story” – I am not sure what that implies, though I can imagine that a lot of money has been sunk into the Expression tools without drawing significant market share from Adobe’s Creative Suite.

Barnes is a straight-talking guy but clearly this is all speculation. Nevertheless it is obvious that, on the eve of launching IE9 beta with its fast JavaScript engine, hardware accelerated graphics, and pixel-precise bitmap drawing, Microsoft has a tricky job positioning HTML5 vs Silverlight. For that matter, even positioning Silverlight vs desktop Windows Presentation Foundation is not easy.

Since we are also on the eve of launch for Windows Phone 7, which Microsoft has flagged as a strategic product and which uses Silverlight as its app platform, it seems unlikely that the technology will be sidelined; but rumours of internal divisions on the subject do not surprise me.

24 thoughts on “Microsoft wrestles with HTML5 vs Silverlight futures”

  1. I’d take more note of Scott if he wasn’t making claims like “HTML5 is the replacement for WPF…” that’s just plain silly. Even the Silverlight vs HTML5 is over-discussed – I wrote, to try and get people to realise SL is not competing directly with HTML5 – in my opinion they solve different problems and I wish more people understood that – Scott should know this and he sounds more like he’s carrying a chip ion his shoulder rather than being constructive.

  2. What does it mean “oh and WPF is dead”, even on desktop? Sounds strange, not to say more. Should we go back to WinForms, or the whole desktop infrastructure will be replaced with HTML5?

  3. @Artem

    Bear in mind it is all speculation. It is true though that most of Windows 7 (what comes in the box) is native code. What then is the runtime for managed code, whether that is .NET or JavaScript? WPF, Silverlight, or HTML/JavaScript, or some new combination, say HTML/.NET? There won’t be any return to winforms, and WPF will still work, but we could see a change in the future strategy. Could be Silverlight subsuming WPF; could be some new thing in Windows 8.


  4. I’m kind of with Artem on this one. It seems strange and highly unlikely that Microsoft would be killing off WPF (or even saying that WPF is a dead technology) because of HTML 5. Even if there was some kind of hybrid runtime for Managed code a la Javascript/.NET, there would still need to be a desktop UI framework to handle things.

    Microsoft also has a lot of people investing a lot of time in WPF Code (Financial applications, Microsoft Surface Applications, etc). To rip that out from underneath developers and claim it “dead” after having WPF for such a short period of time (as far as traditional large desktop application life-cycle is concerned) seems like a step backward.

    I’m seriously hoping that his statement was strictly referring to the use of WPF in XBAP (XAML Browser Applications) since that seems like the only area that WPF really competes with HTML5/Silverlight.

  5. @Justin WPF isn’t going anywhere, it won’t be killed off. The question is more about where Microsoft is investing. For example it’s interesting to me that LightSwitch targets Silverlight and not WPF – because it will work both on Windows and on the Web, and probably on Windows Phone in future. That’s more strategic than doing something similar for WPF.


  6. @Tim Very true. I guess it’s all in how you interpret the wording.

    Even so, how much are developers working with Silverlight and WPF going to be able to move forward with innovative products without Microsoft still investing in those technologies.

    If Microsoft isn’t investing in WPF (as well as Silverlight, from the sound of things), it seems like Microsoft is going to alienate a lot of developers who have already adopted those technologies.

  7. WPF is such an advance technology that it doesn’t require any additional investment to stay the best windows app UI technology for many years. The fact MS is investing into SL last years is just a reflection of that fact and IMHO it is not WPF who is killed by SL, it is more SL becoming WPF v2 (cross-platform).

    As for future of the SL as web technology VS HTML5, I guess HTML5 would win just because the requirements of the normal web sites are so dumb that SL usage is an overkill and lack of real SEO support is major problem in that aspect. As for SL requiring plugin, so does the HTML5 – just the plugin comes built in browsers as HTML5 parsing engine. Try to use it in *non-modern* browsers today – won’t work.
    As for reducing the SL investments in favor of HTML5, quite frankly there’s nothing urgent to be added to SL4 (the development pace was already to fast hurting adoption) offering similar capabilities as Flash so it makes all the sense to me that spotlights are focused on IE9 and HTML5 where…

  8. Anyone who thinks that MS will kill off Silverlight/WPF in the near term needs to look at Win Phone 7.

    The entire dev story for the platform is C#/Silverlight/WPF/XNA.

  9. Surprised that the dev divsion would be backing anything against HTML5. As a dev I can’t imagine why I’d want to use a locked-in M$ product over an open standards one that has far wider acceptance, and means my skills are less focused on supporting the M$ ecosystem and far more transportable (though reasons like that may be one reason why they’d rather stay proprietary).

  10. Fact is if ms doesn’t pursue html5 they will be further and further behind

    Html5 tooling is a big win for ms

    However with lack of what I consider an incomplete spec we will all be paying for the lack of compatibility.

  11. Thanks for the heads up Tim. What Scott Barnes wrote is more or less echoes what people outside Microsoft are wondering.

    I remembered the day when BillG announced that WinHelp was getting replaced with ChmHelp. It was a gutsy move.
    In there lies the precedent that Silverlight on Windows Mobile will be displaced as well.

    HTA didn’t go very far in the past, as the browser wasn’t mature enough and a memory hog. Perhaps with HTML being more ubiquitous today than it has ever been, and improved browser engines, we will see a resurgence. Certainly, Mozilla is snapping at Windows heels with the promise of local HTML applications.

    There was a time when MS was big enough to create it’s own reality. Today, the platforms are fragmenting, and Apple, the new behemoth has put a wall up against running other companies Runtimes.

    MS has only one good choice – keep deploying Silverlight until it can no longer be ignored, and then press for antitrust against Apple. Joining the standards game means the eventual death of it’s Windows platform. Already, Android devices are getting bigger and more functional. It is a matter of one or two years when it supplants desktops. MS cannot afford to be a development tools company.

  12. Are we supposed to believe that a former employee of microsoft can wander around the campus, presumably in and out of crucial meetings, review internal documents and find out all sorts of critical strategic plans. Absurd. More likely he wasn’t even allowed in the canteen.

    Does it occur to anyone that just perhaps he has a chip on his shoulder regarding the fact he is former?

    Did he fall or was he pushed? And where’s the blood?

  13. @vishi no idea, but the issues are real; I wrote a separate post on Microsoft’s difficult choices.


  14. Some use-cases for Silverlight will be replaced by html5 in the public web, no doubt. But for applications, it can’t come close to functionality / developer productivity.

    And to say html5 will replace wpf is just ridiculous. perhaps wpf / silverlight will merge, but that is just semantics. It will be quite a while before a xaml based UI technology that leverages the full .net framework disappears from windows (call it what you like).

    I just finished a project where we developed a wpf UI for controlling medical chemistry analyzers, with WPF talking to custom windows device drivers that control the machines. It’s laughable to think we could have built that on html. it cracks me up. the guy is a crackpot.

  15. The thing that I find in common with a lot of negative posts on the subject is ‘expectations’. The arguments seem to mostly center on a ‘expectation that was not met’, and this is always a source of anger.

    Let us not focus on any hopes and dreams from marketing over the years, and look at what ‘is the reality right now’. There is a lot to Silverlight. So much that it is far from ‘dying’.

    Don’t get me started on LightSwitch. That product will ‘shake the world’ (in a good way), in my opinion. It will cause Silverlight to be spread to practically every corner of the corporate world.

  16. Until the HTML5 standards body adopts a file level encryption DRM standard into the product spec, premium content won’t flow to HTML5 clients. I have spoken to the author of the standard Ian Hickson and his response left me thinking that the HTML5 group just doesn’t comprehend the media landscape. Sure DRM isn’t perfect. It’s about as good as you are going to get and on that note, nothing is perfect.

  17. Go to “” and try writing an HTML5/JAVASCRIPT website to match it. If you cannot, you know right there which is the winner between SilverLight and HTML5.

  18. is impressive, but I’ve seen the same done without Silverlight, both with Flash ( and Open Laszlo) as well as Javascript (though a link escapes me at the moment).

    I would love to see Microsoft succeed, and I hope Tim Heuer succeeds leading the Microsoft Silverlight effort (very cool dude, very supportive of fellow devs, and a very talented developer in his own right) but it is far from a done deal.

  19. I have developed regular web application and XAML based WPF applications. I would say that WPF/XBAP/SL would win every time. WPF is so much easier and faster to develop with. HTML5 is a standard and will change very slow. This is why Flash and WPF will never die. They can change quite rapidly to fulfill the needs of the user base.

    HTML is seen as the common denominator, but that is starting to not be the case any more. HTML as we know it will be dead some day if people think about it.

  20. I can’t see this happening in the real world either – not for some time at least. The corporates move slow with things like browser and OS roll-outs – they are expensive and cause heaps of legacy testing, customisations and fixes to existing code. They same can not be siad with plug-in roll outs as they don’t tend to touch stuff that do not rely on them – and they can be safely rolled out to specific users with very little cost. In the meantime developers will continue writing in SL and WPF. IE9/HTML5 may shake the world of the little web dev guys out in the cold world, but the big boys will not allow M$ to just drop and run – and M$ are not prone to either. SL4 is impressive – a really good dev platform for intranet apps which are not so concerned with plug in or Xap download size/time (as they can all be pre-delivered and offer much greater speeds over an internal LAN). SL/WPF is here to stay. I am not sure if I see a real merging between the two either as SL has a slightly different mandate especially with respect to security – though somethings deemed too much of risk up until SL4 are now in there (e.g. ClipBoard access – so no need for leveraging Flash just for x-browser ClipBoarding whcih was just silly – and required BOTH plug-ins) and (assuming there will be one) SL5 may include even more.

  21. @Chui Tey

    Antitrust against Apple? Because of what? HTML5? Macs? iPad? C’mon, even the iPhone has less sales than both RIM and Nokia… or are you talking about iPod/Zune? More like the other way around…

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