After telling an interviewer late last week that the role of Silverlight in the scheme of things has "shifted" -- thus setting off fears in some observers' and developers' minds that the cross-platform, cross-browser streaming media technology is being dead ended -- the president of the division that has purview over its future admits that he miscommunicated.
In a move meant to calm the waters and reassure developers that it won't pull the rug out from underneath them after it has spent 3 B= years convincing them that it is the future platform for streaming media, President of Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) Server and Tools Division, Bob Muglia, said in a follow up blog post this week that Silverlight remains "strategic."
Muglia's interview comments were originally published by the All About Microsoft blog. In his own blog post, Muglia said that the confusion was his fault.
"I understand that what I said surprised people and caused controversy and confusion. As this certainly wasn't my intent, I want to apologize for that," the post said. He added that he was accurately quoted in the article.
The statement, and the brouhaha it caused, came during Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference (PDC) -- held at the company's Redmond, Wash. headquarters for the first time -- late last week.
At issue is how does Silverlight, which is currently in its fourth revision, fit into the scheme of handling media in a world that is increasingly becoming dominated by HTML 5.
For instance, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9) -- Microsoft's biggest update to its browser in years, which began beta testing in mid-September -- focuses heavily on HTML 5 support. That's the latest version of the HTML standard, and standards support is one of Microsoft's hot buttons for IE9, which it hopes will help it win back some of the global market share it has lost in browser usage in the past few years.
Some industry observers have hypothesized that HTML 5 support in IE9 all but dooms Silverlight -- something Muglia vehemently denied.
He said that the company is working on version 5 of Silverlight and that the technology, which doesn't need a browser to run, will continue to be cross-platform and cross-browser and run on both PCs and Macs.
Further, Silverlight is the primary development platform for Windows Phone 7 apps.
"Silverlight is a core application development platform for Windows, and it's the development platform for Windows Phone," Muglia said. Microsoft is working on Silverlight 5, he added, but he did not talk about what features and changes it will have, or when it will see the light of day.
That said, however, Microsoft is being pragmatic, according to one veteran analyst.
Since, HTML 5 support is not as mature yet as Silverlight, Microsoft is pointing app developers to Silverlight on Windows Phone 7. (The other programming platform for Windows Phone is XNA, which is for writing games.) At the same time, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) has also committed to supporting HTML 5.
Initially, though, Silverlight was seen as a direct competitor to Adobe's (NASDAQ: ADBE) Flash media technology on Windows. However, with the shift by users to wireless devices to access the Web, the marketplace itself is morphing. So Microsoft is finding a "shifted" role for Silverlight -- primarily for building Windows Phone 7 apps -- at least for the time being.
"It's pretty clear that we're going to end up with HTML 5 [on Windows Phones] eventually, but it's not cooked yet," Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com.
A former Microsoft manager who now does independent consulting and iPhone app development agrees.
"Microsoft isn't seeing significant adoption of Silverlight, but I don't think they will stop evolving it," the developer said. "They've just stated they are betting on HTML 5 as the primary web platform for cross-browser, cross-platform, cross-device [development]."
That matches the sentiments that Muglia espoused in his blog post.
"When we started Silverlight, the number of unique/different Internet-connected devices in the world was relatively small, and our goal was to provide the most consistent, richest experience across those devices. But the world has changed [and] getting a single runtime implementation installed on every potential device is practically impossible. We think HTML will provide the broadest, cross-platform reach across all these devices," Muglia said.
Another former Microsoft manager takes a more jaundiced viewpoint.
"[It's] a bunch of back-pedaling if you ask me. So HTML 5 is their cross-platform strategy, which is a very good move. However, they want developers to invest tons of time and money learning Sliverlight just to create Windows Phone 7 apps," the former manager said.
Meanwhile, Enderle suggested, that might have been on the agenda for the hour-long talk that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer had with the CEO of <="http://itmanagement.earthweb.com/cnews/article.php/3907396/What-if-Microsoft-Bought-Adobe.htm">Adobe in early October. News of that meeting caused a brief spike in Adobe's stock price when some analysts heard they had discussed a possible buyout, but seems to have been at least partly about joint defense against Apple.
"The question is do you work together, or do you fight the wave," Enderle said. "Microsoft says, 'we're going to ride the wave'."