Does Microsoft have the Silverlight bullet?

Its prey is the Flash player (and possibly the design application). Flash is everywhere on the desktop.

Having said that, Macromedia would not (and still Adobe doesn’t) let ISVs distribute the player for mobile devices – end users have to dig on the website for it themselves. Device manufacturers can however, come to a bundle arrangement. Despite this, mobile applications like FlashThemes (a great animated theming application for Pocket PCs which is a today screen plug in), and FlashThemes Pro (it’s bigger brother that takes over the today screen) are thriving.

This is stuff FlashThemes can do today on mobile device with flash!

FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemes player (using Flash) showing an animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile
FlashThemesPro player (using Flash) showing a replacement fully animated Today Screen on a Pocket PC device running Windows Mobile

Why am I mentioning mobile devices?

Microsoft says this is a “cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivery the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications for the web”, but apparently nolonger cross device?!

In fact, let’s look at the FAQ on the Silverlight website…
Q:”Which devices will be supported?”
A:”Device platforms are being considered based on customer feedback”

Microsoft showed WPF/E (that’s Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere), now “Silverlight”, over a year ago running on a Pocket PC device with the Windows Mobile OS. I was interested.

At least it’s cross-browser and runs on other platforms… OK just one – it supports Mac with Safari… but wait, not with Opera.

Want more WOW starts now? Go to the Silverlight website. Tell me it looks wicked awesome with that immersive cyberspace 3D stuff. Um… no. It’s based on a subset of WPF which only includes 2D support, so that video you saw is bogus. It’s a little like buying Windows Vista Basic and finding out you don’t get that one Flip 3D trick you saw on the TV commercial.

Well, at least it’s free, so it should be easy to distribute. Probably a Windows Update if Microsoft wants to get it out there quickly. If not, then it may be harder to proliferate. The new (and good) security in Windows Vista means that you need to elevate to an admin user to install it, which may present a barrier for adoption. When Flash came along years ago, lots of consumers were merrily running 95/ME/XP as admin users and it was very easy to install Flash.

The new website sadly presents the same tired-looking demos. Where’s the Microsoft equivalent of Flash (the design application, not the player)? The site mentions tools like those in Expression Studio and Visual Studio (which seems more like marketing for those tools) – there doesn’t seem to be any specific tool add-ons to make the design experience work. This is not surprising given that Visual Studio will not have designer support for the full WPF platform (released last November, alongside Vista) until probably this November.

If Microsoft really wants this to be the Silverlight bullet, it needs to have this running on mobile devices to make it permeate every aspect of the new consumer age. This means having it run on Symbian based devices. Take PhoneThemes.

PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a Symbian Series 60-based phone
PhoneThemes player (not using Flash) showing an animated theme on a SmartPhone form-factor device running Windows Mobile

This is an animated theming application and DRM-protected distribution platform for mobile phones (Windows Mobile-based PDAs and phones or Symbian-based phones). It doesn’t use Flash and it can now run on even the older Symbian 40 Series devices.

Can Microsoft make Silverlight work on these devices and make an Adobe killer? Given the spin about video interaction they are singing, it’s unlikely these devices will hold up performance-wise. That makes it a race with new devices. Microsoft needs to get behind its device manufacturer partners and allow ISVs to distribute (or at least link in the installer from the web) before Adobe does a deal with someone like Nokia that wipes out Silverlight before it’s properly lit.

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