Microsoft to Push Silverlight via Redesigned Website

Microsoft SilverlightSeveral 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:

  1. 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!
  2. 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.
  3. The Silverlight part of the interface is almost wholly unnecessary. It’s really nice to use, it’s smooth, it’s easy, and it’s beautiful – but it’s nothing that requires a RIA in the first place. Microsoft could have easily implemented the same user experience (give or take) with HTML + JavaScript/AJAX; with a lot less effort and greater compatibility.
  4. 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.

94 thoughts on “Microsoft to Push Silverlight via Redesigned Website

  1. /no comment on the M$ thing.

    what would be clever and witty is a joke about lights out for MS silverlight or something…. j/k :D

  2. I’m not going to download invasive, proprietary crap like silverlight just because the Microsoft.com site requires it.  This is bundling all over again.

    If Microsoft does (foolishly) go live with a silverlight-only site, I’ll demand a non-silverlight version.

  3. First of all, in regards to this talk about “I haven’t seen this” or “I haven’t seen that”. There is some raging hatred out there for “all” Flash sites, which thankfully, most experienced Flash developers have heeded. RIA is a different matter entirely. The Nature of a “properly” deployed RIA app is to be a value added feature of a site, not the site itself.

     
    There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of Flash and Flex based applications on the public internet that are hidden from sight because they aren’t pushed as the Interface for an entire site. Many of those RIA’s are behind registration systems. They have an actaul useful function. Building an entire site with an RIA platform is rediculous and will only anger users.

    As far as the argument about proprietary software goes, just how much technology has Adobe released in the last year as open source compared to Microsoft?
     

  4. I personally haven’t a problem installing plugins or activeX or whatever on Windows or Linux, Firefox or Internet Explorer. It doesn’t take much time, effort, or cost; and most are developed decently-enough so as not to crash every ten minutes.

    But, and I swear to it, I haven’t come across a single site requiring Silverlight for anything since its release. In all those of months of heavy web-browsing and downloads, I was never asked to install Silverlight because absolutely no one is using it.

    So now Microsoft wants to require it for their site. Fine by me, I just installed it a minute ago.

    I too like the new interface, but you are right, it does not need to be done in Silverlight. But I don’t care, Silverlight or HTML, they are both the same for me (but you cannot search for text in a Silverlight document!).

    Microsoft shouldn’t replace HTML with Silverlight because it is not designed to be a HTML replacement.

    But I see the point of the article.. that this is a new ingredient in the RIA wars and it is worth some pondering over. I don’t see the controversy at all, it’s just a fact for fsck’s sake, not an argument….

    I don’t give a grain of salt’s worth if MS is using Flash or HTML or Silverlight but I am wondering if it wouldn’t have been wiser for MS to ship Silverlight with Vista RTM in the first place and avoid this whole PITA in the first place?

    Does anyone with any legal background or familiarity know if shipping Silverlight with Windows would be a breach of the antitrust laws?

  5. Chris, I’m not sure if that last line was intended to be a rhetorical question or not, but I’ll go ahead and answer it:

    Microsoft has released lots of open source material, Adobe hasn’t. But it depends on how you define “open source.” The problem is that Microsoft’s open-source license (Microsoft Shared Source) isn’t really open. It’s “here’s the source so you can see what it does and how it works, but you can’t use this source anywhere else.”

    It’s no more open source than a proprietary PHP or Perl script. You can see the source, but you can’t use it. Which really isn’t a problem. They’re doing 50% of reverse-engineers’ work for them.

    But it does beg the question: if you’re going to release the source, and you know that someone will create a true open-source version of this, why not release it as free software in the first place? (Answer: MS just doesn’t want to officially support anything other than Windows, and wants to be sure that it can still market superior compatibility with software xxxx as a reason to use Windows in the business)

    @m00ner:
    IANAL, but Microsoft ships .NET 2.0 and 3.0 with Vista, so I don’t think it would be any different for them to ship Silverlight with it either. But you have to understand, Vista was already years behind schedule and Silverlight 1.0 RTM was months off.

  6. Thanks CG. IANAL either, but that seems to be sound logic to me.

    Gary: Interesting! But doesn’t really matter much, does it? 60 million or 55 million or 65 million… big numbers all the same xD

  7. No open source from Adobe? Have you not been paying attention? Large portions of Flex are being opened up, PDF is now an ISO standard, Mozilla is now working with the Tamarin scripting engine for the next generation of Javascript, Adobe released the Spry Javascript library the swf file format has been open for a while now. I’m sure I’m missing something, but that is far from nothing and much more than Steve Balmer (considering his public comments on the matter) would ever allow MS to release into the wild.

  8. @Chris

    I agree that Adobe is doing a lot more  now that it is facing some real competition. Its not enough, but it will get there. Remember when they skipped a whole version of the Flash player for Linux.

    But, I guess its time to break out the scotch, take a seat and watch the fireworks.

  9. I’m sure MS would be thrilled to get the ISO standards out, if only they would let them :D

    I didn’t know about the Tamarin scripting engine, thanks for sharing that. Believe me, I’m not defending Microsoft’s “open source,” but if it’s a question of quantity, there is a lot of it.

  10. Well I think it’s not necessarily a safe assumption to make that they are opening things up solely because of pressure from competition. Flash for instance has evolved from a tool for designers to an RIA tool and the Flex spinoff is in response to that. All of it driven by development trends and feature demands from developers. Focus has changed, the average bandwidth going into homes has changed, and the use of video has changed. All of it interconnected and not connected to any one company or organization.

  11. “I’m sure MS would be thrilled to get the ISO standards out, if only they would let them :D”

     @Computer_Guru  ??? You mean they aren’t letting them bribe member countries for votes anymore? That’s terrible!!! 

  12. Wow. This reminds me of the days when you saw funky web sites that told you to “set your browser to this size for best viewing”. I usually found those sites a pain to go to what with having to resize my browser window all the time.

    At least for now it’s only Microsoft’s site but if this catches on, I can see once again departing web sites (like I did before) as soon as I see some lame notice that I need to “click her” if I’m not using a Silverlight-enabled browser.

  13. I’d love to use silverlight!

    It seems like a really good system. Well deasigned, innovative, exactly the competition Flash needs (I’m no fan of Adobe).

    I’ll learn it, develop in it, and publish in it with joy.

    As soon as it’s under GPL, so I know Microsoft can’t play any “games” with it in the future. That’s what I’m really worried about. The technology looks great. But because of MS’s history of nasty behaviour (Windows Media on Mac particularly affected me) I want to see it in a true, strong, free software licnese.

    Even the MIT license isn’t enough for this. It *has* to be GPL – the whole thing – or I won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole.

    So MS – if you’re serious about SilverLight, that’s what everyone is waiting for.

  14. Why can’t MS just get IE6 and IE7 working properly so developers can design websites that will work across browsers. If MS wants developers to take them seriously, instead of trying to find ways to lock users in, they need to start at least getting this part right. It has taken years to upgrade IE6 because their IE6 was pretty much on every computer. Not until Firefox start showing some real challenge before MS got off their AS* and start working on their browser again. If IE6 and IE7 is any indication, silverlight and .NET will follow the same path.

    Having said that, I’m all for competition. Good clean competition that is.Not one of MS doing one of its dirty tactics.

  15. Yes, Computer Guru, those wide open licenses like BSD will allow Microsoft to use those technologies in the same way that they used some of the security stuff recently for XP. They took it, modified it just enough to make it incompatible with the existing standard, and then did not open up the modified part of the code, because the more open license did not require them to. Maybe you can get a fix on just how nasty that is. Microsoft taketh whatever they can get, but they give back nothing that they are not forced to by law or market conditions. Anything that Microsoft gives away, they usually bury in the cost of their monopoly products, taking away income from legitimate and independent vendors while requiring us all to contribute when we buy Windows. You may have noted the pricing on Vista. XP Pro can be had quite cheaply, while Vista Ultimate costs about 21% more for nothing but a bit of eye candy.

  16. Weighing in from an outside perspective as I develop web sites for community organizations and small businesses.

    I think the comment about American companies not really having it together in this area is dead-on : both Flash and Silverlight are trying to become *commercial, relatively exclusive* standards for RIA.

    Why should we have to debate between the two at all?  Part of the reason HTML succeeded so brilliantly is because it is open – and if the net is headed towards an intensive use of RIA’s, then it is terribly inefficient to rely on commercial interests to develop and maintain competing separate standards.  We’ve all been down that road before.

    That approaches creates the well-documented design/political/efficiency flaws already discussed above in *both* Flash and Silverlight.  We can do better..

     

  17. When I see the gathering storm that is Silverlight 2.0 I have to ask my self: Self, what does this mean for all the Macintosh and Linux users who will be denied the ability to use some of the most powerful and wonderful sites on the internet? It means that anyone who seriously wants to use the internet will have to use Microsoft Silverlight, that’s what it means. This is the end of non-windows internet. It is the beginning of a golden age of interoperability where all users know that all software will work well together because they will all be united under the banner of Microsoft.

  18. anonymous (jan 4, 2:14am), you speak as if the future of .net is in question. but it isn’t…. for the past several years, .net has held its own and gained ground – quite marvelously in fact.

    .net, since v2, has been very well received by almost all windows developers which is a big part of the dev market. only on linux has .net struggled.

    the difference with silverlight is that it is intended to be deployed on the web, and the web is a universal non-platform-specific environment where both windows and non-windows users alike count..

  19. “Why can’t MS just get IE6 and IE7 working properly so developers can design websites that will work across browsers.” 

     Up until the announcement that IE8 had passed the ACID2 test, it was speculated by some that MS was abandoning the browser for the Silverlight platform. I don’t buy that they can pull this off. It will not be a Windows only internet. I do think MS has tried it’s best to derail ECMA 4, because a fully standards compliant  browser with ECMA 4 and HTML 5 would be serious competition for Silverlight. I also don’t buy into all this anti-corporate rhetoric. Give me a break.
     

  20. Tried the beta in latest Firefox on Windows XP.    Immediately got multiple pop-ups advising that the plug-in was performing illegal operations, and I had to crash Firefox to get out.  Okay its “beta”, but this tends to confirm my suspicion that when MS says “multi-platform” they are not to be trusted.

     

  21. Firefox support anyone ? 

     
    Or is it yet another trick to suck people into m$ monoculture ?

     

  22. My $0.02 – microsoft was always late in the game. And have always won. So far. Windows mobile knocked PalmOS, IE killed Netscape and the list is going on and on.  MS taking its time to do it right. And they never give up. So my bets are on SL. I liked what I tried in SL2.0 (aka SL1.1 Alfa). All the core ideas are solid. XAML sharing between WPF and SL is a smart move. a lot of 3rd party controls is to be expected. Integration with VS2008 is working well.

    Not all is rosy, of cause,  but it is an alfa.

    I don’t worry about availability or market share. SL2 is 4.5 meg, which on broadband is almost instant. MS can always make it part of the update. Making thier site based on SL is even smarter. They put themselves in the corner on purpose – they’ll have to make it work smooth.

     

  23. I am a gamer. I went to MS’s website to take a look at their CES stuff. Guess what? Please install Silverlight.

    Can the mod here tell me if swearing is ok, coz I will come back and swear my heart out. 

  24. Yes, Mr. Kariv, Microsoft is the 900 pound gorilla that sleeps wherever it wishes. They wait until it is clear which direction the technology is going, and then move in and co-opt the process, modifying it just enough to make as much of it as possible proprietary. You would think that anything that qualified as XML would be open by definition, but Microsoft manages to build into OOXML, various dependencies on Microsoft products and interfaces, dependencies not fully speciified and since they basically own ECMA, they can push a standard through there in record time. But, so far, the other standards bodies are not quite so susceptible. So far, it appears that SL will be accessible from most platforms, but not necessarily able to be created or managed from anything but MS products. We shall see. I am sure that linux will have some level of difficulties, even if they promise compatibility. Probably, it will lag a few versions, of course because MS doesn’t have the resources to maintain in parallel on all platforms. 

     I’ll give you my description of Microsoft on the internet. Remember, non-internet MSN was supposed to be all that was needed. Then, MS made a fast 180 and suddenly the internet was THE most important thing. They bought a copy of the old Mosaic from which the first Netscape came, and then turned it into the first IE, which was a total piece of junk, but it was “free”, and bundled with the OS, which robbed Netscape of a revenue stream, while leaving them to compete with the resources of a monopoly. Well, we all know the results of that. We also know that until IE7, IE was a total joke except where it used non-compatible stuff to trap users into having to have it for whichever sites they could coerce or convince to use their proprietary stuff. MS is really a lot more like an elephant than a gorilla. It takes an elephant a while to get going, but when they do get going, they can move awful fast, with the unfortunate side effect of trampling any who get in the way on their way to the head of the herd. Then, when they get to the head of the herd, they trumpet the idea that they really were always the leader…yup, dontcha know.
     

  25. “microsoft was always late in the game. And have always won.”

     Not entirely true. In fact less and less. It isn’t the same world today. The XBox for instance hasn’t done too bad, but it’s not number one. Zune is pretty much a bomb. Now you may say “well that’s hardware, not software”, but the market share numbers for Windows are on the slide as well. I wouldn’t say they “own” ECMA either, because they could very well lose the battle on ES 4. The PR damage done by the hyjinks in the ISO standards process for OOXML, I think is more profound than some may be thinking as well.
     

  26. I am glad Chris brough up those examples, because they are part of the reasons I chose Silverlight over Flash for my mashup. Fair disclosure, I am writing something in SL after evaluating DHTML/Flash+Flex/SL.

    XBox example. True. It is not #1. It is in its second version now and it reached parity with the ex market leader Sony. Sony PS3 is not doing good. XBOX is at the same point now when IE was when it reached parity with NN, I think. 

    Zune is not a bomb as a direction. Zune currently is just a version 1. It was supposed to be a bomb. MS version 1 always is. Its goal is to get into the game and start learning. version 2 is to become a real contender. version 3 is to match the leader. version 4 is to become the leader. More or less.  This is one thing I found MS perfecting. They never give up on strategically important things.

    I see SL as strategic to them. I might be wrong. But if I am not, I count on SL being progressively better. Just like MS media player was in the battle with RealPlayer. Who remembers RP now?

    So I chose SL for my RIA. Only time will tell if I chose wrong. Because if  I did, and SL does not reach mass market status, my application will be useless.

     

  27. Oh, once again, I am not praising Microsoft, please don’t get me wrong. The only thing I care is to make right choices for myself as an independent software developer. For that I have to understand the terrain, so everything I speculate here is of that nature. So am not agains MS or pro MS. I simply watch them and other forces and adapt. So please don’t flame me :))

  28. Well, you certainly won’t get any flame for here: like you said, the most important thing for independant software developers is to make the right choice.

    I can’t see Silverlight going the way of the dodo simply because it is Microsoft we’re talking about and they are very heavily invested in this. For your users, the worst case scenario is the initial problem of having to install Silverlight if they don’t already have it.

    The most important thing to keep in mind is that neither Flash nor Silverlight are mutually exclusive. You can have both co-existing on the same system/browser/webpage without a problem.

    It’s not like a site that requires IE or a program that requires OS X: it’s a much more of a subtle distinction than it is a detour or roadblock for most run-of-the-mill PC users.

    The problem only arises on non-officially-supported platforms which happen to also have a certain bias against MS, as is expected (and tbh mostly deserved).

  29. @Kariv

     

    “The only thing I care is to make right choices for myself as an independent software developer.”

     Could you point out some of the benefits that you saw for your end users when you made the decision to go with SL.

  30. Computer Guru and Kariv,

    Experienced developers should have a little longer view of the market and the internet. If MS is allowed to dominate, progress will slow and expenses will increase for all of us and for our customers. Large enterprises have understood this for years. Most of them buy enough of competitive products to existing monopolies to keep the competition alive. If they do not, then they know that they will be subject to predatory pricing at some point along the curve. At a smaller level, looking at products that do not attract such large corporate support, only small developers and companies are able to support and sustain these products. Many are superior to and cost competitive to the larger products. Yes, it means taking a few risks, but so does the “stick with the monopoly” strategy. Do you want to bleed to death slowly or take a chance and possibly win. I’ve been in this business long enough to remember the old slogan, “nobody was ever fired for buying IBM”, and largely, it was true, but it wasn’t right then, and it isn’t right now. Those who stuck with IBM to the bitter end, often drowned their companies along with themselves. No, IBM did not die, but it does not even resemble the dominant monopolist that it once was, nor does it cover nearly so much of the marketplace as it once did. If a company did not have a balanced purchasing policy in place, it’s competitors left it behind, by reducing costs and changing strategies. Monopolies eventually break down, vision is lost, technology makes drastic changes, leaving the monopolist’s huge investments as sunk cost against newer companies with far less overhead. The weakness of Vista is obvious to any with a little bit of technical knowledge. With Silver..anything, they are not ready to face a commoditized computing market being lead by the OLPC(One Laptop Per Child) movement. Really, neither is Intel. The duopoly is about to break down. The world does not need something with shinier pictures, it needs ubiquitous computing and communication. Yes, there will always be a market for the newer and the shinier, but it will be a niche compared to the absolutely tremendous market represented by the rest of the world that has little or nothing of computing and communications. It’s the spammers market mode, with only one response for millions of attempts. Profits will commoditize as they have with the cell phone market. In fact, the two will somewhat merge. Computing will achieve a utility status like water, power, gas, and sewer in the first world. As people learn how to do these other utilities through the internet and ubiquitous computing, they will never allow themselves to again be isolated. How can you keep them down on the farm when they’ve seen Paris.

    So, look ahead a little past the toes of your shoes, or you’re likely to step over a really big cliff without ever having seen it. And, you’ll take your customers with you.

     

  31. Also mention that the new Visual Studio 2008 Express ( free ) edition has been released
    only days ago and guess what it contains for the Visual Web Suite other than WPF driven app-development ?

    Popfly for making websites.. powered by silverlight,including ready to compile Starter templates for full blown websites that are incredible .

    now count one and one :

    it is free and so will spread around within months :)

  32. Silverlight is obviously a way for Microsoft to take over the web along with its monopoly.
    Even a blind fool could see this.
    It’s the same identical thing that brought to Netsacpe death.
    If they take over the web, it will be the death of hundred thousands small to mid companies all over the world that design websites. It will be the death also of Google (that is a more fair bigger player).

    We can only hope the US Antitrust does its job properly this time.
    Some judge tried to split Microsoft long ago, but he was teared apart. Maybe now that US has got a new YOUNG President (that uses more a PC and the web), Justice can draw his sword.
    Guess what happens if Obama’s website can’t be viewed anymore with IE9 unless you install Silverlight. Luckily the Obama’s website is made in PHP, good Xmas sign for all of us!

  33. @Master Baiter: what’s SilverFish?
    Gladly things seem to have start changing and getting on to the right path since my last comment to this article in 2008.
    Thanks to the iPhone/iPad Apple magic power the useless slow Flash engine won’t probably reach 2012.
    And maybe also Silverlight (just another attempt to get over the WWW in a monopolistic way) won’t see the 2012 too.
    Good: there are already many excellent and free technologies like PHP, Javascript, HTML5, CSS3. Why should we use SilverLight?!

  34. too bad M$ doesn’t feel a need to make it universally compatible. Running linux + ff = unusable silverlight .. I think I’ll go back to watching my flash based videos now …

  35. No open source from Adobe? Have you not been paying attention? Large portions of Flex are being opened up, PDF is now an ISO standard, Mozilla is now working with the Tamarin scripting engine for the next generation of Javascript, Adobe released the Spry Javascript library the swf file format has been open for a while now. I’m sure I’m missing something, but that is far from nothing and much more than Steve Balmer (considering his public comments on the matter) would ever allow MS to release into the wild.

  36. Oh, once again, I am not praising Microsoft, please don’t get me wrong. The only thing I care is to make right choices for myself as an independent software developer. For that I have to understand the terrain, so everything I speculate here is of that nature. So am not agains MS or pro MS. I simply watch them and other forces and adapt. So please don’t flame me :))

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