Category Archives: silverlight

Mac users refusing to install Silverlight

The New York Times has run into a hail of criticism from Mac users over its use of Microsoft’s Silverlight plug-in for its offline reader, Times Reader, in its new Mac version, now in beta.

I took a careful look at the comments. There are 122 at the time of writing, of which around half are complaints about the choice of Silverlight. Here’s a few:

Nope. Not going to use *anything* from Microsoft. If reading the NYT requires MS products then, for this reader, goodbye NYT.

Silverlight? Why? I’m using Mac to escape Microsft’s crappy technology.
No thanks

PLEASE listen to your readers. Macs have a long, successful history of superior page layout, design, and rendering of published content. There is absolutely no reason to require a Microsoft plugin to display text and graphics on a Mac.

Silverlight will not install on Firefox on an Intel Mac (all versions current.) Why, O, why did you choose to go with a proprietary Microsoft technology with all the predictable Microsoft flaws and prejudices?

I was really looking forward to this, but I cannot support Microsoft’s Silverlight platform. Not only is it proprietary, but it runs more slowly than any alternative (Java, Flash) and it does not support end-user choice of browsers (Firefox, Safari not supported).

By way of balance, there are some dissenting voices:

Sometimes I find it hard to admit I’m a mac user. What a community of loud close-minded drama queens. “I’m canceling my subscription because you built an app that requires silverlight.” Please.

I took a look. My Mac is running Leopard (OS 10.5) and Safari is the default browser. I downloaded the beta and ran the installer. It duly invited me to install Silverlight:

Clicking the button took me to Microsoft’s download page, where I clicked the big button:

Downloaded, opened the download, and Silverlight installed:

Installation was quick, and at the end invited me to restart the browser – though it seemed to do so automatically. Microsoft’s web page now informed me that Silverlight was installed and showed an animation.

At this point, I was able to continue the Times Reader installation, which said “A suitable version of Silverlight has been found”. A couple of clicks later, I was up and running:

The application worked well in my brief test. The most obvious difference from the Windows version is that there are four fixed window sizes, rather than on-the-fly reflowing of text. It will be interesting to see if the more advanced Silverlight 2.0 can come closer to the full WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) version; if it can, there would be a good case for implementing both versions in Silverlight. It is an interesting project, since it runs Silverlight within a desktop application, rather in the manner of Adobe’s AIR.

Maybe Flash would have been as good or better, though as I understand it the New York Times finds XAML, the layout language in Silverlight, an excellent fit for what it wants to achieve. Nevertheless, my experience suggests that blanket hostility to Silverlight on the Mac is hard to justify from a technical perspective. In fact, Microsoft has done a good job in respect of keeping the download size small and making installation smooth. Admin rights were requested, but no restart was needed.

Still, if Silverlight attracts so much bile from readers of the NY Times it suggests Microsoft has a considerable problem on its hands. I’d imagine it is off-putting to others who are considering the development of Silverlight apps, since Mac support is a critically important feature.

Who needs AIR? NY Times does desktop Silverlight app for Mac

The New York Times is porting its excellent Times Reader application to the Mac using Silverlight 1.0:

Times Reader for the Mac is a native Cocoa application, which uses the Safari toolkit and Silverlight to render the pages.

Follow the link for some screengrabs. Adobe’s AIR (which also uses the Safari toolkit) is the obvious choice for this kind of online app; it’s interesting to see the NY Times adapting Silverlight in a similar manner.

I spoke to developer Nick Thuesen about this at Mix07, so this is not news for readers of this blog; though I’d become sceptical about whether it would be delivered because of the delay. Now, I’m surprised that the NY Times is still using Silverlight 1.0 rather than waiting for 2.0.

The Silverlight version appears to have some compromises. In particular, it cannot flow text on the client:

We paginate the pages for the Mac version on our servers (the Windows version does this on the PC). When you sync, we send you pages for the four window and three font sizes described above.

Still, the screens look good and I look forward to trying it – especially as the public beta will be free, whereas you need a subscription for the full release.

There is a high level of hostility towards Silverlight in the comments to the post. Mostly these appear to be religious in nature – ie. Mac users hate all things Microsoft. It does illustrate the difficulty the company has in persuading the world to take its cross-platform ambitions seriously.

Thanks to Ryan Stewart for the link.

Substantial .NET, Visual Studio 2008 update in Service Pack 1

Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie has announced .NET 3.5 SP1 and Visual Studio 2008 SP1 beta. Some of the things which caught my eye:

  • Performance: up to 40% faster startup for desktop .NET apps, up to 10% faster ASP.NET.
  • Smaller runtime in .NET “Client profile”. There is a new cut-down runtime for Windows Forms or WPF client apps, bringing the setup down to “only” 26MB. The key point here is the size of the file a user must download and run if she does not already have .NET installed in the right version. Tim Sneath has more details about the new client profile.

A bit of context: the .NET 2.0 runtime is only 22.4MB. This ballooned to 50.3MB for .NET 3.0, and 197MB for .NET 3.5 (check the size of the full package, not the 2.7MB bootstrapper which launches further downloads) – though there are ways to reduce the size of the 197MB monster, which actually includes several versions of the .NET Framework.

  • New vector shape, Printing, and DataRepeater controls for Windows Forms – echoes of old VB controls.
  • A datagrid for WPF – not actually in SP1, but promised shortly afterwards.
  • WPF interop with Direct3D
  • ADO.NET Data Services (formerly Astoria) and Entity Framework

The new SP offers compatibility with SQL Server 2008, and the database product itself is still expected “third quarter” as far as I’m aware. I guess it may go final at the same moment as SP1 for .NET and Visual Studio.

The smaller runtime for .NET desktop apps is welcome, but those in search of a lightweight .NET runtime should look at Silverlight 2.0, which is currently 4.38MB.

Microsoft to Yahoo: Forget it, then

Microsoft is walking away. The right thing to do in my opinion.

Could Microsoft have bought Yahoo? Clearly, it could have done – for more money:

In our conversations this week, we conveyed our willingness to raise our offer to $33.00 per share, reflecting again our belief in this collective opportunity. This increase would have added approximately another $5 billion of value to your shareholders, compared to the current value of our initial offer. It also would have reflected a premium of over 70 percent compared to the price at which your stock closed on January 31. Yet it has proven insufficient, as your final position insisted on Microsoft paying yet another $5 billion or more, or at least another $4 per share above our $33.00 offer.

It follows that the withdrawal of the offer is a strategic decision, not just a victory for Yahoo, its insistence on a higher price, and its dalliance with Google.

I suspect many voices within Microsoft were saying that the deal would not deliver the benefits the company sought – namely, to pull closer to Google in the search market.

We are also seeing some interesting internal developments, from Silverlight to Popfly to Live Mesh – that suggest Microsoft does have an internet story, albeit still an uncertain one.

I wonder how this saga will look twelve months from now?

Popfly Game Creator – programming online with Silverlight

This looks great: Popfly Game Creator.

Interesting on several counts.

First, casual gaming will help get Silverlight runtimes deployed.

Second, it’s Microsoft doing one of the things it does well: opening up programming to a new group. Another example: Microsoft promotes its XNA gaming framework to universities, where it helps them to entice new students into computer science.

Third, it’s from Adam Nathan, author of the definitive work on .NET interop, .NET and COM. Popfly gaming must be welcome light relief (though I don’t mean to imply that this stuff is easy to do).

Fourth, is online programming – I mean, programming that you actually do online – coming of age?

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Live Mesh: Hailstorm take 2?

So says Spolsky, in a rant about both unwanted mega-architectures, and the way big companies snaffle up all the best coders.

Is he right? Well, I attended the Hailstorm PDC in 2001 and I still have the book that we were given: .NET My Services specification. There are definitely parallels, not least in the marketing pitch (from page 3):

.NET My Services will enable the end user to gain access to key information and receive alerts about important events anywhere, on any device, at any time. This technology will put users in total control of their data and make them more productive.

Swap “.NET My Services” for “Live Mesh” and you wouldn’t know the difference.

But is it really the same? Spolsky deliberately intermingles several points in his piece. He says it is the same stuff reheated. One implication is that because Hailstorm failed, Live Mesh will fail. Another point is that Live Mesh is based on synchronization, which he says is not a killer feature. A third point is that the thing is too large and overbearing; it is not based on what anyone wants.

Before going further, I think we should ask ourselves why Hailstorm failed. Let’s look at what some of the people involved think. We should look at this post by Mark Lucovsky, chief software architect for Hailstorm and now at Google, who says:

I believe that there are systems out there today that are based in large part on a similar set of core concepts. My feeling is that the various RSS/Atom based systems share these core concepts and are therefore very similar, and more importantly, that a vibrant, open and accessible, developer friendly eco-system is forming around these systems.

Joshua Allen, an engineer still at Microsoft, disagrees:

All of these technologies predate Hailstorm by a long shot.  There is a reason they succeeded where Hailstorm failed.  It’s because Hailstorm failed to adopt their essence; not because they adopted Hailstorm’s essence …. the “principles” Mark’s blog post cites are actually principles of the technologies Hailstorm aimed to replace.

but as Allen shows in the latter part of his post, the technology was incidental to the main reasons Hailstorm failed:

  1. Hailstorm intended to be a complete, comprehensive set of APIs and services ala Win32.  Everything — state management, identity, payments, provisioning, transactions — was to be handled by Hailstorm.
  2. Hailstorm was to be based on proprietary, patented schemas developed by a single entity (Microsoft).
  3. All your data belonged to Microsoft.  ISVs could build on top of the platform (after jumping through all sorts of licensing hoops), but we controlled all the access.  If we want to charge for alerts, we charge for alerts.  If we want to charge a fee for payment clearing, we charge a fee.  Once an ISV wrote on top of Hailstorm, they were locked in to our platform.  Unless we licensed a third party to implement the platform as well, kind of like if we licensed Apple to implement Win32.

Hailstorm’s technology was SOAP plus Passport authentication. There were some technical issues. I recall that Passport in those days was suspect. Some smart people worked out that it was not as secure as it should be, and there was a general feeling that it was OK for logging into Hotmail but not something you would want to use for online banking. As for SOAP, it gets a bad rap these days but it can work. That said, these problems were merely incidental compared to the political aspect. Hailstorm failed for lack of industry partners and public trust.

Right, so is Live Mesh any different? It could be. Let me quickly lay out a few differences.

  1. Live Mesh is built on XML feeds, not SOAP messaging. I think that is a better place to start.
  2. Synchronization is a big feature of Mesh, that wasn’t in Hailstorm. I don’t agree with Spolsky; I think this is a killer feature, if it works right.
  3. Live Mesh is an application platform, whereas Hailstorm was not. Mesh plus Silverlight strikes me as appealing.

Still, even if the technology is better, what about the trust aspect? Will Mesh fail for the same reasons?

It is too soon to say. We do not yet know the whole story. In principle, it could be different. Mesh is currently Passport (now Live ID) only. Will it be easy to use alternative authentication providers? If the company listens to its own Kim Cameron, you would think so.

Currently Mesh cloud data resides only on Microsoft’s servers, though it can also apparently do peer-to-peer synch. Will we be able to run Mesh entirely from our own servers? That is not yet known. What about one user having multiple meshs, say one for work, one personal, and one for some other role? Again, I’m not sure if this is possible. If there is only One True Mesh and it lives on, then some Hailstorm spectres will rise again.

Finally, the world has changed in the last 7 years. Google is feared today in the way that Microsoft was feared in 2001: the entity that wants to have all our information. But Google has softened us up to be more accepting of something like Live Mesh or even Hailstorm. Google already has our search history, perhaps our email, perhaps our online documents, perhaps an index of our local documents. Google already runs on many desktops; Google Checkout has our credit card details. What boundary can Live Mesh cross, that Google has not already crossed?

Hailstorm revisited is an easy jibe, but I’m keeping an open mind.

Windows 7 rumoured to have new UI framework with Ribbon and Jewel

Not sure what to make of this. A number of sites are reporting on a Microsoft job posting which includes the following text:

Come lead the effort to update the Windows 7 platform with the latest advancements in User Interface design. Bring the Ribbon, Jewel, and other new UI concepts to the Windows platform … Our mission is to enable the next generation of user interface development on the Windows platform. We will be determining the new Windows user interface guidelines and building a platform that supports it. We’ll eliminate much of the drudgery of Win32 UI development and enable rich, graphical, animated user interface by using markup based UI and a small, high performance, native code runtime … The UI Platform Team is looking for a senior technical leader to help drive the design and implementation of the new UI framework.

The posting appears to have been pulled, which means I can’t verify that it ever existed. Still, it’s thought-provoking. The “Jewel”, by the way, is the big button at top left of Office 2007 apps – the one you have to click when in search of the File menu.

I get on OK with the ribbon in Office 2007, but it has annoyances. For example, in Excel, why is Insert Cells and Rows on the Home ribbon but not on the Insert ribbon? I tolerate it because of the Quick Access Toolbar which lets me group the commands I often use but can’t find easily.

Even so, there’s no harm in making the ribbon a first-class citizen in Windows. But what about this new “markup based UI” and “small, high performance, native code runtime”? It is hard to believe that Microsoft would abandon WPF, which is already a markup-based UI. Might this be a new WPF runtime that does not require .NET? This may seem plausible if you recall that early versions of Longhorn attempted to use .NET for the core Windows UI, a mistaken decision that was a factor in the infamous reset, and thus indirectly caused Vista to be delivered both late and unready.

It still makes little sense. Microsoft already has a small, high-performance, alternative WPF runtime: Silverlight. Why build another one? Further, Windows needs simplification, not new frameworks. It also seems late in the day to be contemplating the “design and implementation” of a new UI framework. Perhaps it is just an early April Fool; or maybe plans are further along than the posting implies.

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Mono on the iPhone

Unlocked iPhone, of course. Miguel de Icaza has the details and some video links.

Flash, Silverlight, Mono, Java: surely Jobs won’t keep all these runtimes officially forbidden for ever? It strikes me that Flash has the best chance of getting there, simply because without it the Web is a little bit broken for iPhone users. It’s an influential device and its runtime support (or lack thereof) will be a factor in web development trends.

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Mix08 is all online

Microsoft has put the sessions from Mix08 online. You can stream them with Silverlight, or hit the download button to save them in WMV or MP4 (“for iPod”). The quality of the sessions I’ve attended or watched was uniformly high, so I recommend these if you have any interest in Microsoft’s web development plans. In particular, the sessions on IE8 and Silverlight deliver lots of new information.

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Thoughts on Mix08 Day One

So how was the Mix08 keynote? Let’s start with the good stuff. It went without a hitch; it was engaging; we saw some terrific Silverlight demos; and Internet Explorer 8 looks like a compelling upgrade. Not all Microsoft’s keynotes are this good.

Did Ray Ozzie make sense of Microsoft’s overall Internet strategy? I’m not sure. He was too visionary for my taste. That said, he made some interesting remarks. He says that “all our software will be significantly refactored” to better integrate with cloud-based services. He says that businesses will be able to choose between on-premise and cloud-based services. He says that virtualization is the key to a rise in utility computing. He also spoke of advertising as the commercial engine behind the next generation Internet.

Scott Guthrie, now Corporate Vice President of Developer Division, gave an impressive tour of what is happening with ASP.NET and Silverlight, with the latter the main focus. He says that Silverlight is now getting 1.5 million downloads daily. As expected, he announced the beta of Silverlight 2.0, which you can download now. He also announced Nokia’s support for Silverlight on Symbian, though this news actually broke on Monday. It is still significant, though getting any runtime deployed on mobiles is an arduous task: carriers as well as manufacturers have to be convinced of the value. He also mentioned that Sharepoint is getting Silverlight web parts.

Silverlight demos included Aston Martin, Hard Rock Cafe, and NBC’s site for the 2008 Olympics. Highlighted features included Silverlight’s zooming ability, which is the technology formerly known as Seadragon and now called DeepZoom, and HD video. The Olympic demos were engaging, with features like the ability to do instant, user-controlled replay of live video. Aston Martin’s demo showed how well Silverlight works for exploring an online showroom, inspecting and customizing your chosen vehicle in a virtual environment (I saw a similar Flash-based demo at Adobe’s Flex and Air launch a couple of weeks ago).

Dean Hachamovitch showed off IE8; I blogged about this yesterday.

Now, the tough questions. Silverlight looks great; but we saw similar demos here last year. Silverlight 2.0, which is the one most people care about, is now closer to release; but equally Adobe has moved forward with Flash, in particular improving its video capabilities, and the question hanging in the air is: what does Silverlight offer that Flash does not? In this respect, one of the more interesting remarks in the keynote came from a guy from Weatherbug, who demoed a Silverlight app which he said was running on Symbian. He observed that their developers had also tried to develop in Flash Lite, but it has proved costly (in development time) and “didn’t really work”. The Silverlight app by contrast had been done in three weeks. This is Flash Lite of course, not the full desktop Flash, but it would be fascinating to know what the critical differences were.

As for IE8, it is a huge step forward in standards support, but if you subtract what is arguably catch-up to FireFox, what are we left with? Activities and Web Slices look handy, but these are not major pieces. IE8 is not done yet, and apparently there will be more user-centric features before it ships – but when will that be? Microsoft’s Chris Wilson told me last year that it would be around two years after IE7, which would be autumn 2008, but that looks optimistic to me.

Overall my feelings are appropriately mixed. There is plenty of good stuff here, and Silverlight will be great for Microsoft platform developers who can integrate it seamlessly into their ASP.NET web applications. Whether it can mount a serious challenge to Flash in the wider Internet remains an open question.

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