Microsoft under Fire: Silverlight Missteps as Windows Phone Debuts
Windows Phone 7 devices reached retailers' shelves in the United States on Monday. Developers' excitement about the U.S. rollout may have waned somewhat after the recent confusion over the future of Silverlight, Microsoft's rich Internet application (RIA) and Windows Phone 7 development platform.
That uncertainty was sparked by reports of alleged internal HTML5 versus Silverlight conflicts (IE9 supports HTML5, Windows Phone 7 at launch does not); confusing blog postings from Microsoft and a de-emphasis on Silverlight technology outside of WP7 development at PDC last month.
Those sparks were then fueled by comments at PDC from Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Division, about a shift in Silverlight's strategy, which were reported by long time tech reporter Mary Jo Foley in her blog. Various interpretations of Muglia's comments went viral, which ignited a Web uproar: "Silverlight is dead for the Web." "Silverlight is the new IE6."
The ensuing panic wreaked havoc for many developers. Some reported sleepless nights; others faced tough questions after working hard to convince management and customers to place big bets on Silverlight technology. Many Silverlight devotees, however, remain unfazed.
Scott Guthrie, Silverlight lead and corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, tried to address the Silverlight questions in his blog. He reiterated what Muglia had tried to explain in a Silverlight team blog after the Mary Jo incendiary. Silverlight is a strategic technology for Microsoft. The company's investments in the technology focus on three core areas: client apps inside and outside of the browser, apps on devices (Windows Mobile and Windows Embedded), and media solutions.
Guthrie, who is currently on paternity leave (so he probably wasn't sleeping that much anyway) explained:
"Where our strategy has shifted since we first started working on Silverlight is that the number of Internet connected devices out there in the world has increased significantly in the last 2 years (not just with phones, but also with embedded devices like TVs), and trying to get a single implementation of a runtime across all of them is no longer really practical (many of the devices are closed platforms that do not allow extensibility). This is true for any single runtime implementation - whether it is Silverlight, Flash, Java, Cocoa, a specific HTML5 implementation, or something else."
At least his blog was to the point. Guthrie is expected to talk more about the technology when he gives the keynote for the Silverlight Firestarter on December 2nd, an all-day educational event that will be streamed live and also available on-demand.
Microsoft's failure to communicate that Silverlight is no longer viewed as an universal cross-platform runtime solution for .NET developers--did anyone ever really think that it would work that well beyond Windows--underscores why a chief software architect or chief technologist, who can formulate and articulate the company's vision to all of its constituents from risk adverse executives to developers to Wall St. analysts remains critical. It's time to re-evaluate the decision not to replace Ray Ozzie.
With social media and the Internet promising viral exposure of perceived missteps, a brush fire that isn't put out immediately can threaten developers' livelihoods and make many people question their allegiance to Microsoft's stack despite great technology and tooling. Silverlight developers deserve better.
What's your take on the future of Silverlight? Does Microsoft's shift in strategy affect your plans for Windows Phone app development? Express your thoughts below or drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Kathleen Richards on 11/09/2010 at 6:10 PM