Several months ago, Microsoft inserted themselves into the RIA framework business – years too late and against pretty scary odds – with the initial release of the Silverlight framework. Microsoft Silverlight is the online counterpart to the Microsoft .NET 3.0 Framework and a direct Adobe Flash/Flex competitor.
Microsoft isn’t new to the whole “virtual” monopoly business (where a single company holds the entire market thanks to “superior technology” and “better business sense”) – it’s just not too often that they’re on the wrong side of this particular proverbial fence.
When Silverlight was first announced and PopFly, Microsoft’s social network built to demonstrate and hopefully kickoff Silverlight, were simultaneously launched; we were quick to appreciate the technical aspects of .NET and WPF taken online, but were careful to make it clear that we didn’t think it stood much of a chance.
But things might be on the verge of a big change. Large portions Microsoft’s website are in the middle of a redesign that will feature a fully Silverlight-powered interface – doing away with HTML and everything else. We’ve had a chance to test the new interface (currently in beta), and here’s what we think:
- According to Compete, Microsoft.com is the 8th most popular site on the internet, with around 60 million unique visitors a month. Put another way, if Microsoft successfully pulls this off, that’s 60 million new Silverlight users in the first month alone!
- The new, Silverlight-powered interface is a pretty big step up from the old design, making it easy to access information about individual downloads and view overall info and lists.
- At the moment, very few non-Microsoft-owned sites are using Silverlight at all; let alone for the entire UI. And of those that do, none have anywhere the amount of exposure that Microsoft.com gets.
Keeping these facts in mind, there’s only one logical conclusion to be drawn: Microsoft realizes (as has the rest of the geek community) that Silverlight is on the verge of being forgotten. Claims of superiority aside (true or otherwise), Microsoft has realized that if Silverlight is to stand a chance, it’s going to take more than a failed attempt at making a Silverlight-powered social community to get developers and consumers alike to adopt Silverlight.
It’s a desperate move, there’s no doubt about it. While Microsoft will no doubt be making an alternative HTML interface available for a mixture of legal and practical purposes, switching Microsoft.com over to Silverlight is a sure-fire way to get that attention…. and depending on how it’s both marketed and carried out, it could be what it takes to make developers start taking Silverlight seriously.
Whether this’ll work out or not, only time can tell. We don’t know when the new Silverlight-interface will be going mainstream, but it’s probably not for a couple more months at the very least. The current interface still links to many as-of-yet not updated pages, and portions of the Silverlight section still appear to be missing some features here and there. Overall, the new interface is very user-friendly and well-developed, though.
You can either view NeoSmart Technologies screenshot gallery of the upcoming Microsoft.com re-design or attempt to access the beta link directly (working as of 01/03/08); but still pictures don’t really do the interface justice. Where the new UI really shines is the overall grace and fluidity of the interface, with gentle hover effects and fade in/out transitions that are done just right.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to clear up some references to a full-site redesign of Microsoft.com. We do not have any evidence that all of Microsoft.com is being redesigned to take advantage of Silverlight, just large portions of it. Sorry for any confusion.