Microsoft recently held their annual PDC (Professional Developer’s Conference) during which Steve Ballmer and Bob Muglia (President, Server and Tools business) made comments regarding a shift in Microsoft’s strategy on Silverlight as well as a concerted focus on HTML5. A subsequent article surprised the tech community around the future of Silverlight. There was a lot of speculation and confusion last Friday; some people were suggesting that Microsoft was winding down Silverlight and others suggested that Microsoft simply screwed their messaging up. On Monday arrived a clarifying blog post from Bob Muglia explaining that Microsoft is in no way backing away from Silverlight, and that it will remain a core technology well into the future. Similar messages from Microsoft followed. Another one worth reading came from Scott Guthrie a few days later.
Here’s my take on the situation. First, it’s unfortunate that Mr. Muglia’s message was delivered and quoted the way it was. Microsoft is now taking steps to try to undo the understandable surprise Mr. Muglia caused in the developer community. For some, regardless of all subsequent clarifying communication from Microsoft, they’ll still perceive it as simply kicking sand over Mr. Muglia’s unwanted and premature reveal of the truth. Some people have a thing against Microsoft, and they’ll pick the reality that conforms to their desires.
Silverlight is valuable, fills many of the gaps that HTML currently has and might always have, and continues to be a core Microsoft web development technology. The community uproar from the events of last Friday support this. While there were PDC sessions on Silverlight and other established technologies, Microsoft focused their marketing machine on new technologies; Windows Phone 7, Azure, IE9 (with a lot of HTML5 focus), and other offerings for which they want to increase their exposure and market share. Remember that the PDC is as much about marketing Microsoft’s new and emerging technologies as it is about educating developers on the existing, successful ones!
The reality is that HTML5 is important and it’s still really early in its evolution. Microsoft, along with the rest of the world, realizes that the standard for the open web is moving toward HTML5. HTML5 clearly strives to do what technologies like Silverlight and Flash already can, and for true standardization to occur it is essential outside any proprietary plug-in. The race between the giants like Microsoft, Apple, and Google is only just beginning, and a lot of the recent messaging from Microsoft around HTML5 can simply be seen as declaring their intent to be at the forefront of that race. However, HTML5 has a long way to go before it meets the functional and development productivity levels of Silverlight, not to mention overcoming the browser compatibility issues that we still face with HTML4. I, like anyone else, can only speculate, but it appears to me that truly pervasive use of HTML5 is still years away. In fact, the W3C is going so far as to suggest to the tech community to hold off on HTML5 deployments until the spec settles more. Until that time, technologies like Silverlight will remain the go-to technologies for efficiently building rich, interactive applications that run across multiple browsers on multiple platforms.
For our customers that are building or are considering building Esri ArcGIS Server applications using Silverlight, my recommendation is to not let the recent articles and discussions cause undue concern. Of course assimilating new information in order to make sensible, informed decisions remains paramount and I’m not suggesting simply disregarding recent news. Rather, don’t be paralyzed by HTML5’s future potential and realize that Silverlight continues to remain a great option for efficiently building and delivering value to your customers today and for years to come.