Category Archives: flash

Microsoft pledges commitment to Silverlight – but is it enough?

Microsoft’s president of Server and Tools Bob Muglia has posted a response to the widespread perception that the company is backing off its commitment to Silverlight, a cross-browser, cross-platform runtime for rich internet applications. He is the right person to do so, since it was his remark that ”Our strategy with Silverlight has shifted” which seemed to confirm a strategy change that had already been implied by the strong focus in the keynote on HTML 5 as an application platform.

Muglia says Silverlight is in fact “very important and strategic to Microsoft”. He confirms that a new release is in development, notes that Silverlight is the development platform for Windows Phone 7, and affirms Silverlight both as a media client and as “the richest way to build web-delivered client apps.”

So what is the strategy change? It is this:

When we started Silverlight, the number of unique/different Internet-connected devices in the world was relatively small, and our goal was to provide the most consistent, richest experience across those devices.  But the world has changed.  As a result, getting a single runtime implementation installed on every potential device is practically impossible.  We think HTML will provide the broadest, cross-platform reach across all these devices.  At Microsoft, we’re committed to building the world’s best implementation of HTML 5 for devices running Windows, and at the PDC, we showed the great progress we’re making on this with IE 9.

The key problem here is Apple’s iOS, which Muglia mentioned specifically in his earlier interview:

HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything, including (Apple’s) iOS platform.

Muglia’s words are somewhat reassuring to Silverlight developers; but not, I think, all that much. Silverlight will continue on Windows, Mac and on Windows Phone; but there are many more devices which developers want to target, and it sounds as if Microsoft does not intend to broaden Silverlight’s reach.

Faced with the same issues, Adobe has brought Flash to device platforms including Android, MeeGo, Blackberry and Google TV; and come up with a packager that compiles Flash applications to native iOS code. There is still no Flash or AIR (out of browser Flash) on Apple iOS; but Adobe has done all possible to make Flash a broad cross-platform runtime.

Microsoft by contrast has not really entered the fight. It has been left to Novell’s Mono team to show what can be done with cross-platform .NET, including MonoTouch for iOS and MonoDroid for Google’s Android platform.

Microsoft could have done more to bring Silverlight to further platforms, but has chosen instead to focus on HTML 5 – just as Muglia said in his earlier interview.

Whether Microsoft is right or wrong in this is a matter for debate. From what I have seen, the  comments on Microsoft’s de-emphasis of Silverlight at PDC have been worrying for .NET developers, but mostly cheered elsewhere.

The problem is that HTML 5 is not ready, nor is it capable of everything that can be done in Silverlight or Flash. There is a gap to be filled; and it looks as if Microsoft is leaving that task to Adobe.

It does seem to me inevitable that if Microsoft really gets behind HTML 5, by supporting it with tools and libraries to make it a strong and productive client for Microsoft’s server applications, then Silverlight will slip further behind.

Microsoft’s Silverlight dream is over

Remember “WPF Everywhere”? Microsoft’s strategy was to create a small cross-platform runtime that would run .NET applications on every popular platform, as well as forming a powerful multimedia player. Initially just a browser plug-in, Silverlight 3 and 4 took it to the next level, supporting out of browser applications that integrate with the desktop.

The pace of Silverlight development was unusually fast, from version 1.0 in 2007 to version 4.0 in April 2010, and Microsoft bragged about how many developer requests it satisfied with the latest version.

Silverlight has many strong features, performs well, and to me is the lightweight .NET client Microsoft should have done much earlier. That said, there have always been holes in the Silverlight story. One is Linux support, where Microsoft partnered with Novell’s open source Mono project but without conviction. More important, device support has been lacking. Silverlight never appeared for Windows Mobile; there is a Symbian port that nobody talks about; a version for Intel’s Moblin/Meego was promised but has gone quiet – though it may yet turn up – and there is no sign of a port for Android. Silverlight is no more welcome on Apple’s iOS (iPhone and iPad), of course, than Adobe’s Flash; but whereas Adobe has fought hard to get Flash content onto iOS one way or another, such as through its native code packager, Microsoft has shown no sign of even trying.

In the early days of Silverlight, simply supporting Windows and Mac accounted for most of what people wanted from a cross-platform client. That is no longer the case.

Further, despite a few isolated wins, Silverlight has done nothing to dent the position of Adobe Flash as a cross-platform multimedia and now application runtime. Silverlight has advantages, such as the ability to code in C# rather than ActionScript, but the Flash runtime has the reach and the partners. At the recent MAX conference RIM talked up Flash on the Blackberry tablet, the Playbook, and Google talked up Flash on Google TV. I have not heard similar partner announcements for Silverlight.

Why has not Microsoft done more to support Silverlight? It does look as if reports of internal factions were correct. Why continue the uphill struggle with Silverlight, when a fast HTML 5 browser, in the form of IE9, meets many of the same needs and will work across the Apple and Google platforms without needing a non-standard runtime?

Here at PDC Microsoft has been conspicuously quiet about Silverlight, other than in the context of Windows Phone 7 development. IE9 man Dean Hachamovitch remarked that “accelerating only pieces of the browser holds back the web”, and last night Microsoft watcher Mary-Jo Foley got Server and Tools president Bob Muglia to admit that “our strategy has shifted” away from Silverlight and towards HTML 5 as the cross-platform client runtime, noting that this was a route to running on Apple’s mobile devices.

The Silverlight cross-platform dream is over, it seems, but let me add that Silverlight, like Microsoft itself, is not dead yet. Microsoft is proud of its virtual PDC streaming application, which is built in Silverlight. The new portal for Windows Azure development and management is Silverlight. The forthcoming Visual Studio Lightswitch generates Silverlight apps. And to repeat, Silverlight is the development platform for Windows Phone 7, about which we have heard a lot at PDC.

Let’s not forget that IE9 is still a preview, and HTML 5 is not a realistic cross-platform application runtime yet, if you need broad reach.

Muglia’s remarks, along with others here at PDC, are still significant. They suggest that Microsoft’s investment in Silverlight is now slowing. Further, if Microsoft itself is downplaying Silverlight’s role, it will tend to push developers towards Adobe Flash. Alternatively, if developers do migrate towards HTML 5, they will not necessarily focus on IE9. Browsers like Google Chrome are available now, and will probably stay ahead of IE in respect of HTML 5 support.

I hope these latest reports will trigger further clarification of Microsoft’s plans for Silverlight. I’d also guess that if Windows Phone 7 is a big success, then Silverlight on the Web will also get a boost – though judging from the early days in the UK, the new phone is making a quiet start.

Finally, if Microsoft is really betting on HTML 5, expect news on tools and libraries to support this new enthusiasm – maybe at the Mix conference scheduled for April 2011.

Microsoft PDC big on Azure, quiet on Silverlight

I’m at Microsoft PDC in Seattle. The keynote, introduced by CEO Steve Ballmer, started with a recap of the company’s success with Windows 7 – 240 million sold, we were told, and adoption plans among 88% of businesses – and showing off Windows Phone 7 (all attendees will receive a device) and Internet Explorer 9.

IE9 guy Dean Hachamovitch demonstrated the new browser’s hardware acceleration, and made an intriguing comment. When highlighting IE9’s embrace of web standards, he noted that “accelerating only pieces of the browser holds back the web.” It sounded like a jab at plug-ins, but what about Microsoft’s own plug-in, Silverlight? A good question. You could put this together with Ballmer’s comment that “We’ve tried to make web the feel more like native applications” as evidence that Microsoft sees HTML 5 rather than Silverlight as its primary web application platform.

Then again you can argue that it just happens Microsoft had nothing to say about Silverlight, other than in the context of Windows Phone 7 development, and that its turn will come. The new Azure portal is actually built in Silverlight.

The messaging is tricky, and I found it intriguing, especially coming after the Adobe MAX conference where there were public sessions on Flash vs HTML and a focus in the day two keynote emphasising the importance of both. All of which shows that Adobe has a tricky messaging problem as well; but it is at least addressing it, whereas Microsoft so far is not.

The keynote moved on to Windows Azure, and this is where the real news was centered. Bob Muglia, president of the Server and Tools business, gave a host of announcements on the subject. Azure is getting a Virtual Machine role, which will allow you to upload server images to run on Microsoft’s cloud platform, and to create new virtual machines with full control over how they are configured. Server 2008 R2 is the only supported OS initially, but Server 2003 will follow.

Remote Desktop is also coming to Azure, which will mean instant familiarity for Windows admins and developers.

Another key announcement was Windows Azure Marketplace, where third parties will be able to sell “building block components training, services, and finished services and applications.” This includes DataMarket, the new name for the Dallas project, which is for delivering live data as a service using the odata protocol. An odata library has been added to the Windows Phone 7 SDK, making the two a natural fit.

Microsoft is also migrating Team Foundation Server (TFS) to Azure, interesting both as a case study in moving a complex application, and as a future option for development teams who would rather not wrestle with the complexities of deploying this product.

Next came Windows Azure AppFabric Access Control, which despite its boring name has huge potential. This is about federated identity – both with Active Directory and other identity services. In the example we saw, Facebook was used as an identity provider alongside Microsoft’s own Active Directory, and users got different access rights according to the login they used.

In another guide Azure AppFabric – among the most confusing Microsoft product names ever – is a platform for hosting composite workflow applications.

Java support is improving and Microsoft says that you will be able to run the Java environment of your choice from 2011.

Finally, there is a new “Extra small” option for Azure instances, aimed at developers, priced at $0.05 per compute hour. This is meant to make the platform more affordable for small developers, though if you calculate the cost over a year it still amounts to over $400; not too much perhaps, but still significant.

Attendees were left in no doubt about Microsoft’s commitment to Azure. As for Silverlight, watch this space.

Flash to get 3D acceleration with “Molehill”

One of the demos here at Adobe Max was a 3D racing game, running in Flash with 3D acceleration. It was enabled by a new set of GPU-accelerated APIs codenamed Molehill. Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch remarked that with GPU-accelerated 3D, Flash games could come closer to console games in the experience they offer. Lynch also demonstrated using a game controller with a Flash game.

There are no precise dates for availability, but Adobe expects to offer a public beta in the first half of 2011. The APIs will be available in a future version of the Flash Player. Under the covers, the 3D APIs will user DirectX 9 on Windows and OpenGL 1.3 on MacOS and Linux. If no supported 3D API is found on a particular platform, Flash will fall back to software rendering.

One interesting aspect is that Molehill will also work on mobile devices, where it will use OpenGL ES 2.0. Apparently GPUs will be common on mobile devices because they enable longer battery life than relying on the CPU for all processing. I heard similar remarks at the NVIDIA GPU conference last month.

This will be a significant development, especially when put in the context of Flash appearing in the living room, built into a TV or on Google TV.

Adobe: no AIR planned for Windows Phone 7

I’m at the Adobe MAX conference in Los Angeles, and last night attended a couple of the “Meet the team” events where a bunch of Adobe engineers, product managers and others field questions about the products they are working on.

One of the events was on Adobe AIR, where an attendee asked whether we will see the AIR runtime on Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7. It is an interesting question, particularly at an event where mobile AIR has been highlighted. There is much talk of AIR for Android, and at the conference we have also discovered that the forthcoming Blackberry Tablet, the Playbook, uses AIR extensively for its user interface. AIR does not run on Apple’s iOS for iPhone and iPad, but Adobe has come up with a packager that compiles AIR apps to native code.

I have asked Adobe spokespersons before about AIR for Windows Phone 7 and have even been told that it will come, but it is a delicate matter. In fact, when I discussed this in a pre-MAX briefing with Adobe, I was informed was that Adobe would like to do it but that Microsoft will not permit it, though I doubt this is the whole story. The Flash runtime is known to be making its way to the device, though I have yet to see a date announced.

Last night the “Meet the team” presenter was clear. Adobe has no plans to deliver AIR for Windows Phone 7. We were told that Adobe sees Windows Phone 7 as a .NET device. The spokesperson (whose name I missed unfortunately – I’ll update if someone can tell me who it was) added mysteriously his belief that “it wouldn’t be the most successful endeavour for us.”

I would not assume from this that AIR will never appear on this platform; but it seems safe to say that it will not be soon.

The tension here is that supporting AIR would immediately increase app availability on Windows Phone 7, which would be to Microsoft’s advantage; but would also drive developers towards Adobe’s platform and away from Silverlight and .NET. The attraction of a cross-platform runtime is that you can develop once and deploy on a variety of devices, though there are always compromises involved.

Adobe may also have mixed feelings about supporting Windows Phone 7. Android is being heavily promoted here at MAX, even to the extent of handing a free Motorola Droid 2 to all attendees. If Windows Phone 7 becomes popular, Adobe will want its stuff to run there; but it might suit the company even better if it turns out to be a niche device.

RunRev renames product to LiveCode, supports iPad and iPhone but not Windows Phone 7

Runtime Revolution has renamed its software development IDE and runtime to LiveCode, which it says is a “modern descendent of natural-language technologies such as Apple’s HyperCard.” The emphasis is on easy and rapid development using visual development supplemented with script.

It is now a cross-platform development platform that targets Windows, Mac and Linux. Android is promised soon, there is a pre-release for Windows Mobile, and a new pre-release targets Apple’s iOS for iPad and iPhone.

LiveCode primarily creates standalone applications, but there is also a plug-in for hosting applets in the browser, though this option will not be available for iOS.

Now that Apple has lifted its restrictions on cross-platform development for iOS, it is Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 that looks more of a closed device. The problem here is that Microsoft does not permit native code on Windows Phone 7, a restriction which also prohibits alternative runtimes such as LiveCode. You have to code applications in Silverlight or XNA. However, Adobe is getting a special pass for Flash, though it will not be ready in time for the first release of Windows Phone 7.

If Windows Phone 7 is popular, I imagine other companies will be asking for special passes. The ubiquity of Flash is one factor holding back Silverlight adoption, so in some ways it is surprising that Microsoft gives it favoured treatment, though it makes a nice selling point versus Apple’s iPhone.

Latest job stats on technology adoption – Flash, Silverlight, iPhone, Android, C#, Java

It is all very well expressing opinions on which technologies are hot and which are struggling, but what is happening in the real world? It is hard to get an accurate picture – surveys tend to have sampling biases of one kind or another, and vendors rarely release sales figures. I’ve never been happy with the TIOBE approach, counting mentions on the Internet; it is a measure of what is discussed, not what is used.

Another approach is to look at job vacancies. This is not ideal either; the number of vacancies might not be proportionate to the numbers in work, keyword searches are arbitrary and can include false positives and omit relevant ads that happen not to mention the keywords. Still, it is a real-world metric and worth inspecting along with the others. The following table shows figures as of today at (for the US) and itjobswatch (for the UK), both of which make it easy to get stats.

Update – for the UK I’ve added both permanent and contract jobs from itjobswatch. I’ve also added C, C++, Python and F#, (which hardly registers). For C I searched for “C programming”. (US) itjobswatch (UK permanent) itjobswatch (UK contract)
Java 97,890 17,844 6,919
Flash 52,616 2,288 723
C++ 48,816 8,440 2470
C# 46,708 18,345 5.674
Visual Basic 35,412 3,332 1,061
C 27,195 7,225 3,137
ASP.NET 25,613 10,353 2,628
Python 17,256 1,970 520
Ruby 9,757 968 157
iPhone 7,067 783 335
Silverlight 5,026 2,162 524
Android 4,755 585 164
WPF 4,441 3,088 857
Adobe Flex 2,920 1,143 579
Azure 892 76 5
F# 36 66 1

A few quick comments. First, don’t take the figures too seriously – it’s a quick snapshot of a couple of job sites and there could be all sorts of reasons why the figures are skewed.

Second, there are some surprising differences between the two sites in some cases, particularly for Flash – this may be because covers design jobs but itjobswatch not really. The difference for Ruby surprises me, but it is a common word and may be over-stated at

Third, I noticed that of 892 Azure jobs at, 442 of the vacancies are in Redmond.

Fourth, I struggled to search for Flex at A search for Flex on its own pulls in plenty of jobs that have nothing to do with Adobe, while narrowing with a second word understates the figure.

The language stats probably mean more than the technology stats. There are plenty of ads that mention C# but don’t regard it as necessary to state “ASP.NET” or “WPF” – but that C# code must be running somewhere.

Conclusions? Well, Java is not dead. Silverlight is not unseating Flash, though it is on the map. iPhone and Android have come from nowhere to become significant platforms, especially in the USA. Beyond that I’m not sure, though I’ll aim to repeat the exercise in six months and see how it changes.

If you have better stats, let me know or comment below.

Samsung Galaxy Tab – among the first of many iPad clones

Samsung has announced final details and specifications of the Galaxy Tab, a tablet device running Android 2.2 “Froyo”.


It has a 7-inch1024x600 multi-touch screen, 1.00 Ghz processor, GPS, wi-fi, 3G internet, 1.4 megapixel webcam, 7 hours battery life if playing a video (I imagine much longer than that in normal use) and 16GB or 32GB RAM plus optional MicroSD.

Apple’s iPad has a 9.7-inch 1024 x 768 screen and better battery life – 10 hrs while playing a video, according to the specs.

So why would you buy a Galaxy Tab? Well, it is smaller and therefore handier, though you will squint a bit more. It has some freedoms that the iPad lacks, such as Adobe Flash, MicroSD, and FLAC playback. It has a camera. You will not need iTunes in order to interoperate with a PC.

I imagine the main reason, though, is that the Galaxy Tab will be cheaper – even though I cannot find prices anywhere, it is inevitable. This and other would-be iPads will be positioned as cheaper alternatives.

This will not harm Apple at all. It likes to occupy the premium ground and does so with great profitability.

But could the Galaxy Tab be better than an iPad? Well, it will be for certain tasks where the iPad is lacking – see above – but it will lack the careful design and attention to detail which characterises Apple’s device, and of course will not be compatible with all those iPad apps – though in some cases there will be Android equivalents.

Further, all the same doubts which were expressed about the iPad before its launch apply here as well. Do you really want a smartphone and a tablet and a notebook, and if not, which one will you abandon? Is it worth yet another contract with a mobile provider just to keep your tablet connected? It is possible that although Apple can make this category work, others will struggle.

When I played briefly with a Dell Streak, a 5-inch Android tablet, I found myself thinking that it will be a good deal when they sell them off cheap. Without that incentive, it is too big for a phone, too small for much else other than watching videos on the plane.

I would like to try one of these devices, of course, but whether they will succeed is an open question.

Silverlight versus HTML, Flash – Microsoft defends its role

Microsoft’s Brad Becker, Director of Product Management for Developer Platforms, has defended the role of Silverlight in the HTML 5 era. Arguing that it is natural for HTML to acquire some of the features previously provided by plug-ins – “because some of these features are so pervasive on the web that they are seen by users as fundamentally expected capabilities” – he goes on to identify three areas where Silverlight remains necessary. These are “premium” multimedia which merges video with application elements such as conferencing, picture in picture, DRM, analytics; consumers apps and games; and finally business/enterprise apps.

It is the last of these which interests me most. Becker’s statements come soon after the preview of Visual Studio LightSwitch, which is solely designed for data-driven business applications. Taking the two together, and bearing in mind that apps may run on the desktop as well as in browser, Silverlight is now encroaching on the territory which used to belong to Windows applications. With LightSwitch in particular, Microsoft is encouraging developers who might previously have built an app in Access or Visual Basic to consider Silverlight instead.

Why? Isn’t Microsoft better off if developers stick to Windows-only applications?

In one sense it is, as it gets the Windows lock-in – and yes, this is effective. I’m aware of businesses who are tied to Windows because of apps that they use, who might otherwise consider Macs for all or some of their business desktops. On the other hand, even Microsoft can see the direction in which we are travelling – cloud, mobile, diverse clients – and that Silverlight fits better with this model than Windows-only desktop clients.

Another consideration is that setup and deployment issues remain a pain-point for Windows apps. One issue is when it goes wrong, and Windows requires skilled surgery to get some app installed and working. Another issue is the constant energy drain of getting new computers and having to provision them with the apps you need. Microsoft has improved this no end for larger organisations, with standard system images and centralised application deployment, but Silverlight is still a welcome simplification; provided that the runtime is installed, it is pretty much the web model – just navigate to the URL and the app is there, right-click if you want to run on the desktop.

If Microsoft can also establish Windows Phone 7, which uses Silverlight as the runtime for custom apps, the platform then extends to mobile as well as desktop and browser.

The downside is that Silverlight apps have fewer capabilities than native Windows apps. Printing is tricky, for example, though Becker refers to “Virtualized printing” and I am not sure what exactly he means. He also highlights COM automation and group policy management, features that only work on Windows and which undermine Silverlight’s cross-platform promise. That said, via COM automation Silverlight has full access to the local machine giving developers a way of overcoming any limitations if they are willing to abandon cross-platform and browser-hosted deployment.

A winning strategy? Well, at least it is one that makes sense in the cloud era. On the other hand, Microsoft faces substantial difficulties in establishing Silverlight as a mainstream development platform. One is that Adobe was there first with Flash, which has a more widely deployed runtime, works on Android and soon other mobile devices, and is supported by the advanced design tools in Creative Suite. Another is the Apple factor, the popular iPhone and iPad devices which are a spear through the heart of cross-platform runtimes like Silverlight and Flash.

Finally, even within the Microsoft development community Silverlight is a hard sell for many developers. Some us recall how hard the company had to work to persuade Visual Basic 6 developers to move to .NET. The reason was not just stubborn individuals who dislike change – though there was certainly some of that – but also existing investment in code that could not easily be migrated. Both factors also apply to Silverlight. Further, it is a constrained platform, which means developers have to live with certain limitations. It is also managed code only, whereas some of the best developers for both desktop and mobile apps work in C/C++.

I suspect there is division even within Microsoft with regard to Silverlight. Clearly it has wide support and is considered a strategic area of development. At the same time, it is not helpful to the Windows team who will want to see apps that take advantage of new features in Windows 7 and beyond.

Yesterday Windows Phone 7 was released to manufacturing, which means the software is done. Another piece of the Silverlight platform is in place; and I guess over the next year or two we will see the extent to which Microsoft can make it a success.

Develop for Adobe Flash/Flex in Amethyst for Visual Studio

SapphireSteel Software is poised to release Amethyst, which lets you develop Flash and Flex applications with Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2008 or 2010.

Why bother? There’s two aspects to this. One is simply the comfort factor: if you are a .NET developer used to Visual Studio, but now working on Flash or Flex, this could be an easier way in than the Eclipse-based Flash Builder. There is a visual designer, a full-featured debugger, a property inspector with sections for properties, events, effects and styles, for example, and double-clicking an event generates an event handler as you would expect.

The other factor is areas where Amethyst can improve on what Flash Builder offers. One example is ActionScript refactoring, disappointing in Adobe’s product. Amethyst is not brilliant, but does have a few extras including Extract Method, Encapsulate Field and Extract Interface.


Another useful feature is that Amethyst can share projects with Flash or Flash Builder. Before you get excited, it does not do the magic you might want, Visual Studio editing of .fla files with embedded ActionScript. It does work reasonably seamlessly though: you can open .fla file in the Flash IDE by clicking within Amethyst.

This would have been even more interesting if Adobe had not added a measure of Flash Builder integration in Flash Professional CS5; and that is the challenge facing SapphireSteel – how to keep up with Adobe’s official development tools.

I’ve only played briefly with Amethyst but although I’ve been impressed with it in some ways, I also found myself missing features in Flash Builder, such as the Connect to Data wizards, and the view state management.

It is early days though; and I would be interested to hear from others who have tried Amethyst on what they do or do not like about it.

Price is not yet stated, but SapphireSteel also offer a Ruby product which is priced at $49 for a basic edition, or $199 for a professional version. Amethyst also comes in two editions so perhaps we will see something similar.