Microsoft Silverlight: shattered into a million broken urls

There has been some Twitter chatter about the closure of silverlight.net, Microsoft’s official site for its lightweight .NET client platform. multimedia player and browser plug-in.

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I am not sure when it happened, but it is true. Silverlight.net now redirects to a page on MSDN. Some but not all of the content has been migrated to MSDN, but Microsoft has not bothered to redirect the URLs, so most of the links out there to resources and discussions on Silverlight will dump you to the aforementioned generic page.

One of the things this demonstrates is how short-sighted it is to create these mini-sites with their own top-level domain. It illustrates how fractured Microsoft is, with individual teams doing their own thing regardless. Microsoft has dozens of these sites, such as windowsazure.com, windowsphone.com, asp.net, and so on; there is little consistency of style, and when someone decides to fold one of these back to the main site, all the links die.

What about Silverlight though? It was always going to be a struggle against Flash, but Silverlight was a great technical achievement and I see it as client-side .NET done right, lightweight, secure, and powerful. It is easy to find flaws. Microsoft should have retained the cross-platform vision it started with; it should have worked wholeheartedly with the Mono team for Linux-based platforms; it should have retained parity between Windows and Mac; it should never have compromised Silverlight with the COM support that arrived in Silverlight 4.

The reasons for the absence of Silverlight in the Windows Runtime on Windows 8, and in both Metro and desktop environments in Windows RT, are likely political. The ability to run Silverlight apps on Surface RT would enhance the platform, and if COM support were removed, without compromising security.

XAML and .NET in the Windows Runtime is akin to Silverlight, but with enough differences to make porting difficult. There is an argument that supporting Silverlight there would confuse matters, though since Silverlight is still the development platform for Windows Phone 8 it is already confusing. Silverlight is a mature platform and if Microsoft had supported it in the Windows Runtime, we would have had a better set of apps at launch as well as more developer engagement.

I posted that Microsoft’s Silverlight dream is over in October 2010, during Microsoft’s final Professional Developers Conference, which is when the end of Silverlight became obvious. It lives on in Windows Phone, but I would guess that Windows Phone 8.5 or 9.0 will deprecate Silverlight in favour of the Windows Runtime. A shame, though of course it will be supported on the x86 Windows desktop and in x86 Internet Explorer for years to come.

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