Microsoft – make up your mind about Moonlight

I’ve been trying out Microsoft’s Office Web Apps, as provided for the release version of SharePoint 2010. The cross platform story is uneven, whether across Mac/Windows/Linux, or across different browsers, or even across different versions of Windows and Office. So far it does mostly work though, even if there are problems with certain tasks like printing or opening an online document in a desktop application.

The biggest problem I’ve had is on Linux. Supposedly Firefox 3.5 on Linux is supported. I ran up Ubuntu and Firefox 3.5, and went to look at a document in Word Web App. When I selected the document, Firefox quit. Every time.

After checking that Firefox was up-to-date it occurred to me that the problem might be related to Moonlight, the Linux implementation of Silverlight done by the Mono team. I disabled it. Suddenly, everything worked, even Edit in browser.

Moonlight is not just an open source project like the original Mono. It has a certain amount of official blessing from Microsoft. Here’s what VP Scott Guthrie said back in September 2007:

Over the last few months we’ve been working to enable Silverlight support on Linux, and today we are announcing a formal partnership with Novell to provide a great Silverlight implementation for Linux.  Microsoft will be delivering Silverlight Media Codecs for Linux, and Novell will be building a 100% compatible Silverlight runtime implementation called “Moonlight”.

Moonlight will run on all Linux distributions, and support FireFox, Konqueror, and Opera browsers.  Moonlight will support both the JavaScript programming model available in Silverlight 1.0, as well as the full .NET programming model we will enable in Silverlight 1.1.

You would think therefore that Microsoft would test the Firefox/Linux/Moonlight combination with its shiny new Office Web Apps. Apparently not. Here’s what the user experience is like for Office Word App. I figured that the solution might be to upgrade Moonlight to the latest version, so I did, installing what is now called Novell Moonlight 2.2. I went back to Word Web App. Firefox no longer crashes, but I now get a blank area where the Word document should be shown, and an error if I resize the browser window:

Now let’s see what happens if I disable Moonlight:

Everything is fine – except now there is a banner inviting me to “Improve my experience” by installing Silverlight. If I follow the link I eventually get back to the same Moonlight install that I have just enabled, which would actually break rather than improve Word Web App.

It is obvious that if users have to disable Moonlight to work with Office Web Apps, this will not help Moonlight adoption on Linux.

Office Web Apps are new and I’d hope this is something that Microsoft, Novell and the Mono team can soon fix between them. One reason for highlighting it now is the hope that something could be done before the full roll-out of Office and SharePoint 2010 on May 12th.

The real point though is what this says about the extent to which Microsoft cares about Moonlight and Linux users, and how much or little communication takes place between Microsoft and Novell. Silverlight isn’t required for Office Web Apps – as you can see from the above – but it is used to good effect where available, and this Office release is therefore an important release for Silverlight as well.

Microsoft should make up its mind. Is Novell really a trusted partner for Silverlight on Linux? Or a third-party product that has to take its chances?

5 thoughts on “Microsoft – make up your mind about Moonlight”

  1. You are barking up the wrong tree. As you point out, Silverlight (Mono) on Linux is entirely created and supported by Novell, not by Microsoft. It is up to them, not Microsoft, to test and support things, even if Microsoft supports them. Think about any other Microsoft partner’s software (e.g., Photoshop by Adobe)? Microsoft supports them, but it is entirely Adobe’s responsibility if there are any bugs in Photoshop.

    Your title about Microsoft “not making up its mind” is wrong. It has. Mono is Novell’s, not Microsoft’s.

  2. Ian

    Thanks for the comment.

    I don’t recall any partnership announcements about Photoshop similar to what Microsoft said about Moonlight.

    Further, Microsoft is actually pretty careful not to break apps like Photoshop.


  3. One of the problems might be that the latest moonlight preview 3 cannot be installed due to a packaging error, it might work better with that one. According to IRC it was meant to be fixed last week.

    I don’t know which silverlight version Office Web apps require

  4. Most Linux developers I know are very underwhelmed by MS’s “OSP” (a “promise” not to screw people developing the Mono framework and Moonlight)… It seems like a confidence game. Given MS’s business priorities, and their clear intention to get people developing Open Source on Windows rather than Linux, it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realise that if you invest heavily in developing something on Moonlight, either Microsoft (or Novell, who, historically, has not earned the trust of the Linux community) could destroy your market overnight just through a minor api change or a shift in management’s priorities… forcing you to abandon your work… or move to Windows. Neither is a palatable prospect for many of us.


  5. I have a simple solution

    Microsoft is working with Intel to port over Silverlight to Moblin.

    Since Silverlight already exists for Nokia S devices and is working with Intel on Meego, the opportunity is for Nokia and Intel and Microsoft to get a Silverlight release for Moblin, now Meego.

    Of course this may not sit well with Novell, but isn’t Novell trying to sell itself?

    If that happens then Moonlight’s fate and the fate of its customers will be decided.

    Or Microsoft could offer to buy Novell’s Mono/Moonlight crew out.

    Or IBM could buy them

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