Can Microsoft make a success out of Silverlight?

Just over two years ago, Microsoft launched its entry into the Rich Internet Application (RIA) marketplace. So how has Silverlight fared, and can it really topple Flash?

For end users, Microsoft's Silverlight weighs in at just a four-megabyte download, and apparently takes just 10 seconds to install. It opens up, if you buy the blurb, "next generation experiences" - whatever that actually means - as well as delivering multimedia content without any added strain on system resources.

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And in taking on the market dominance of Adobe's Flash technologies, it has certainly got quite a challenge of its hands.

To be fair, it's made reasonably fast progress, too. The first release of Silverlight was in April 2007, and in July of this year, Microsoft will roll out version 3.0, of which a beta is already available.

Since it first appeared, Microsoft has reacted, to its credit, to suggestions and responses that have come from the development community and further features have been implemented. Version three, for instance, will add support for H.264 encoded content and AAC audio encoding, among many other enhancements. Developers are also regularly kept up to date with the evolution of the Silverlight platform.

Furthermore, there are the companies who have been queuing up to adopt Silverlight. ITV, for instance, uses it for content on its website, while the Microsoft pages are inevitably awash with it, too. On its webpage, Microsoft also cites names such as Toyota, EasyJet and Hard Rock International as adopters of the technology. It's increasingly being used to stream video across the web, but just as with Flash, that's only one part of its toolkit.

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There have, inevitably, been criticisms too. While many developers have frustrations with Flash, there's an element of "the devil you know" about it. It's a great irony, of course, that Microsoft faces criticism here for bringing competition in an area where one standard is dominant.

It's hardly an earth-shattering revelation that Microsoft has arguably benefited more than any technology company on the planet for its dominance particularly in the operating system market, and it's regularly criticised for that. Here though, it's trying to break down another company's position in a different segment of the market, and that has generated some negative press in some quarters.

It'd be nave to suggest too that the Microsoft factor doesn't have pros and cons in attempting to push the Silverlight technology out onto the web. Some who are keen to see Flash get a proper rival would, you suspect, had rather it come from anyone but Microsoft.

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That feeling gets enhanced when considering the fact that Silverlight, just as Flash does, has proprietary elements. An open-source equivalent may, given the implicit digital rights management technologies that many media companies demand, be a big ask, but it's still on many people's request list nonetheless. Microsoft, incidentally, has denied reports that it has plans to release part of the Silverlight code base into the open source community.

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