Indeed, will it do so? I like Silverlight a lot; though I appreciate that to a Flash developer it may seem pointless. It does a lot of stuff right: small download, powerful layout language, cross-platform (with caveats), rich media, fast just-in-time compiled code.
Still, what intrigues me is how Silverlight has come from nowhere to what seems to be a central position in Microsoft’s product strategy in just a few years. What’s the business case? Or is it just that someone high up experienced a moment of horror – “Flash is taking over in web media and browser-hosted applications, we gotta do something”?
Let’s eliminate a few things. It’s not the design and developer tools. Making a profit from tools is hard, with tough competition both from open source, and from commercial companies giving away tools to promote other products. I don’t know how Microsoft’s figures look for the Expression range, but I’m guessing they bleed red, irrespective of their quality. Visual Studio may just about be a profit centre (though the Express series is free); but Silverlight is only a small corner of what it does.
Nor is it the runtime. Adobe can’t charge for Flash; Microsoft can’t charge for Silverlight.
I asked Twitter for some ideas. Here are some of the responses:
migueldeicaza @timanderson, my guesses:WinServer built-in-steaming;Strengthening .NET ecosystem, and client-server interactions;Keep share in RIA space
IanBlackburn @timanderson Isn’t Silverlight going to become the "Microsoft Client" and central to s+s? Apps built with it can be charged in many way
harbars @timanderson no doubt with annoying adverts
mickael @timanderson isn’t silverlight a defensive move against other RIA platforms (like Adobe’s one)? They might only plan selling developmt tools
jonhoneyball @timanderson In the long term by hosting tv stations’ internet traffic and providing the charging/hosting/download/player model.
jonhoneyball @timanderson ie azure cloud + silverlight + someone elses content = ms revenue. no, it wont work, but its not unexpected ms-think.
jonhoneyball @timanderson why no work? price war to come on cloud host/delivery etc Someone will host BBC for free. Game over
There are two main themes here. One is media streaming; as the Internet takes over an increasing proportion of broadcasting and media delivery (note recent comments on Spotify) Microsoft plans to profit from server-side services. The challenges here are that there may be little money to be made; Adobe has a firm grip on this already; and Apple will do its own thing.
The other is about applications. This is the bit that makes sense to me. Microsoft knows that the era of Windows desktop clients, while not over, is in long-term decline; and that applies to applications like Office as well as custom business applications. Silverlight is a strong client platform for web-based alternatives. So I’m voting for Ian Blackburn’s comment above: it’s the Microsoft Client.
If that’s right, we’ll see Silverlight embed itself into more and more of Microsoft’s products, from desktop to server, just as Adobe is gradually remaking everything it does around Flash.
The difference is that Microsoft has far more invested in the status quo: selling Windows and Office. I’m guessing that there are heated internal battles around things like Web Office. The briefing I attended at the 2008 PDC on Office Web Applications was fascinating in respect of its ambivalence; for every web feature shown, the presenters wanted to emphasise that desktop Office was still the thing you should have.