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Unexpected Drama: Windows 8 and Silverlight

In the span of 8 months, Microsoft has managed to alienate Silverlight developers, and many in the .NET community, by failing to effectively communicate its application development strategy as software moves beyond the desktop to the cloud and devices.

Last week Microsoft showed a glimpse of its next OS, codenamed 'Windows 8', and talked about multiple form factors and a new app model for 'Windows 8' based on HTML5 and JavaScript. The first demos of Windows 8 featured a touch-enabled, Live Tile interface that looked similar to that of Windows Phone 7. One of the tiles represented a store, although Microsoft did not officially confirm plans for a Windows App Marketplace.

The 'Windows 8' interface looked cool and competitive, especially for devices like tablets. Based on what was demonstrated, users will still be able to run "legacy apps" such as the Office suite, for example, in traditional Windows mode.

According to Steven Sinofsky, president of the Windows division, Microsoft is planning to talk more about Windows 8 and the new app model at its BUILD conference for developers in September. One of the key strategies behind Windows 8—and the BUILD conference—is to broaden the reach of Microsoft's platforms and development tools to developers outside of Microsoft's professional developer ranks. The strategy is sound; the execution is what matters, however.

About a week has passed since Windows 8 was first demoed and so far, Microsoft is running into some serious communication issues with its developer ecosystem, resulting in tremendous anxiety among many app developers who depend on the company's frameworks for their livelihoods. Silverlight developers, in particular, are up in arms as evidenced by the millions who have viewed or participated in the Windows 8 threads (the first of which was taken down) in the Silverlight forums.

Silverlight developers faced a similar crossroads during the PDC10 event in October when the RIA platform took a back seat--outside of Windows Phone development--and Bob Muglia appeared to confirm a shift in strategy in an interview with reporter Mary Jo Foley.

Some developers fear that the Windows division is calling the shots and panicking because they think there's a chance that .NET/Silverlight/XAML are not a key part of Windows 8 development. That dev scenario appears unlikely based on Microsoft's customer base of corporate and business users. Others are upset because based on the first Windows 8 demos, it appears that "legacy Windows code" going forward may include traditional Windows/.NET apps.

It's too early to get worked up over semantics. C#, Silverlight and Visual Studio are key dev tools for Windows Phone 7 and are likely to become even more prominent for certain types of apps with Windows 8 and the unconfirmed Windows Marketplace.

As Microsoft community program manager Pete Brown commented in the Silverlight forum in response to comments on a Gizmodo article:

Nowhere in there is a Microsoft person saying that HTML/Javascript are the exclusive way to write applications. It's a new way, it's an exciting way, and, let's face it, a way that is likely to be hugely popular with web developers.

Later in the same thread, he reiterated:

None of us at Microsoft can say anything until //build/ in September. No one likes that, including me. That's all we can do, however.

The Windows division (Steven Sinofsky and company) may be enforcing a code of silence until the Build conference but that's probably about it. The definition of software and where it resides is a moving target that depends on market forces outside of Microsoft's control. Microsoft appears to be addressing some of those realities, which is a good sign for developers who have invested in the company's technologies.

With enterprise-level requirements, security issues, the emergence of cloud and devices and the consumerization of IT, Microsoft's strategy going forward is probably a work in progress that depends more than ever on developing a broad developer ecosystem. That ecosystem, however, will still center on the core base of professional developers who have invested heavily in Microsoft's frameworks.

As Paul Newman said in Cool Hand Luke, "what we've got here is a failure to communicate."

Microsoft needs to communicate better with its core developers or risk losing valuable Silverlight and .NET developers. Express your thoughts on the future of Silverlight, the Windows 8 app model and Microsoft's strategy going forward. Drop me a line at krichards@1105media.com.

Posted by Kathleen Richards on 06/07/2011 at 12:54 PM

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Jul 18, 2011 jagadish India

What i am predicting is Windows 8 may block silverlight because of its option of running out oF browser application.which has made even the phone not to acess its own silverlight sites.if they allow the development of Silverlight application to run everywere then there will be no use of App hub for phone 7.So from the root i feel they have removed the Silverlight development.If my prediction is true then the deployment of Apps will no more support the xap files it will be something else may be they might introduce a new methodolgy.Allowing Silverlight development may prove expensive for Microsoft they will drop Silverlight and try to put efforts on HTML5 and Javascript.

Thu, Jun 30, 2011 Jim L

I think Pete Brown said it best: “Nowhere in there is a Microsoft person saying that HTML/Javascript are the exclusive way to write applications. It's a new way, it's an exciting way, and, let's face it, a way that is likely to be hugely popular with web developers.”. Microsoft will continue with its current technologies, but this time there is nothing new with the current technologies.

Microsoft is introducing (hyping) HTML5 and Javascript and all the new toys with the same fanfare as a circus coming to town. (And what a circus it is.) All the old players are there too, only with the same old acts. Javascript and HTML5 will make writing web pages easier and will make it easier for non-MS developers to use MS technology to write their applications.

Thu, Jun 9, 2011 H.Dolder Argentina

Thesis - Antithesis - Synthesis
Q: What if instead of considering Silverlight/WPF vs. HTML5 Microsoft is implementing Silverlight/WPF "ON" HTML5 (replacing DirectX by HTML5)?
A: It could easily port their (our) applications to all platforms that support HTML5.http://www.hdolder.com/CutBSK6fN.htm

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 moby

Silverlight has not been a web platform for enterprise applications. All we developers welcome HTML5 on Windows 8!

Wed, Jun 8, 2011

This is much more than a failure to communicate. The Silverlight/.NET/CLR/VS development stack is by far and way the best platform for profesionals to create software that there has ever been. By comparison, HTML/Javascript/jQuery is a disjointed mess which appeals to all those MS hating web hackers out there. Unfortunately, MS is no longer being run by anyone with a professional software development background. Everything I read and see tells me that there is a war being waged inside Microsoft right now. On one side the Windows group, for whatever reason, has convinced management that they can convert all the MS haters out there to abandon all other platforms if they just ditch all their MS development platforms and make "standards" like HTML and Javascript the preferred way to write Windows apps. Oh yeah, that would work. Not. On the other side is the development tools groups who have given us .NET, C#, WinForms, WPF, WCF, ASP.NET, MVC, Linq, Silverlight etc and are allied with the MS developer community. Given the self destructive path that current MS management is on, I propose that they either spin off the development tools group or sell it to someone who would know how to exploit its strengths. Unshackled from towing the MS corporate line, think of what they could do. The first thing that come to mind to me are that they could bring the Silverlight and .NET environments to iOS, Android, Linux, and Mac OS. Talk about your common development platform!

Wed, Jun 8, 2011 80's Rocker

All this "Silverlight is dead" and other comments it totally ridiculous. MS has to much invested in Silverlight on the WP7 side for it to die. And there have been comments on the web stating that Win8 does not change Silverlihgt/XNA being dev tools for windows phones. MS is also getting ready to release Silverlight 5, so why do that if it was going to die with the release of Win8. People need to take a chill pill and wait and see what they have to say at the "Build" conference. MS never stated HTML5/Javascript was the only way toe write Win8 apps, but it is a new way. And MS usually promotes new capabilities, not ones that are already being used.

Tue, Jun 7, 2011 Richard Ainsley

Has anybody noticed Light Switch? It is nearing its retail version. Unlike silverlight, it will have a SKU and a price tag. It also creates silverlight code. We finally have a replacement for Access and VB6 that should have very wide appeal -- and provides a development platform for power users at the low end and dedicated programmers at the upper end of the user spectrum. I doubt that silverlight coders will be terribly dissapointed in the future given the likely success of the current "light switch" product.

Tue, Jun 7, 2011 Seth R

It should have been clear to everyone months ago, that Silverlight is dead. First, it was demoted as a web platform. That really was a huge nail in Silverlight's coffin, as Microsoft transitions to HTML5 for all web apps. Next, we saw that Silverlight was missing in action on Windows 8. The reason that signals the end of Silverlight is because Windows 8 is Microsoft's unified OS to run on desktop PC, tablet and phone. It is being ported to ARM to cater for tablets and phones. Microsoft stated some months ago that Windows 8 will run "on everything." The last enclave of Silverlight activity is Windows Phone 7 and 7.5. That will be the end. After that, we get Windows 8 as Microsoft's phone platform. And look how evasive Microsoft was when confronted with press enquiries about Silverlight's fate in regard to Windows 8. All year Microsoft has been downgrading Silverlight. We all witnessed that. This is just more along the same path.

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