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Friday, November 05, 2010
The whole Silverlight Brouhaha after PDC

A week has passed since PDC 2010. That is a week since we've had quite a Silverlight (and by implication, WPF) brouhaha, brought on by a statement made by Bob Muglia in an interview with Mary-Jo Foley, that was a mixture of unfortunate wording and being taken out of context (not by Mary-Jo, but by many others). Since then, things have calmed down a little as Microsoft has clarified a number of things and people have done some logical thinking. So with some distance, let's take a look at the situation:

The original interview that contains the statement of Bob Muglia can be found here:

In short, Bob Muglia referred to Microsoft's effort around Silverlight and Windows Phone 7, as that was one of the big focus areas of PDC 2010. Bob referred to the strategy having shifted and how Silverlight is now an important platform for the phone. The way this was taken by the community was "our Silverlight strategy has shifted from the web to the phone". This is rather unfortunate, as this is not what it was meant to say. If Bob would have simply changed one word, and instead of "shifted" would have said "expanded", everything would have been much clearer. A message that is really very positive ("Silverlight has just gotten more important by also making it the main technology for Windows Phone 7") all of a sudden became troublesome in the eyes of many who took it as a shift away from Silverlight's original strategy.

Of course what made matters worse is that Silverlight itself (or a future version of Silverlight) was not a focus of PDC 2010. Furthermore, HTML5 was a focus of PDC 2010 as Microsoft talked a lot about Internet Explorer 9 (HTML5 support is one of its major features) and Microsoft also for the first time publicly stated HTML5 was an important strategy (not a big surprise to any of the insiders... after all, it's not like HTML4 wasn't a big focus for Microsoft, so why think HTML5 all of a sudden wouldn't be important?).

Of course there was a bit of a further PR mishap that happened at PDC: PDC has always been a future oriented event that covered just about all significant Microsoft development technologies of the time. This PDC however, was different. (My personal impression even is that this was planned as some other event – perhaps focused entirely on Azure? – which was then re-branded as a PDC). It focused on a few key areas only (Windows Azure, Windows Phone 7, and Internet Explorer 9). And it was very much focused on the "here and now". All in all, this PDC really didn't have much in common with what most people think of when they think of a "real PDC". All of this was known ahead of time (especially "insiders" were in the loop, and I assume people who signed up to be on-site in Redmond knew too), but it was not communicated to the extent it probably should have been. Well, hindsight is 20:20. But if this would have been understood by more people, it would have made it clearer why Silverlight "5" (or whatever the next version might be called) was not discussed at PDC and that that in itself is not reason for any conspiracy theories. (Personally, I think it might have been worth considering a different name for this event, but there are pros and cons of course).

So long story short: The future of Silverlight is bright and there is no reason for concern. Silverlight is a great environment to develop rich applications that go beyond of the things you can do in HTML (5 or otherwise). WPF is an even richer environment and has its place as well (and the next version is in the works). None of that has changed. And of course, HTML(5) has its place as well. HTML is the most generic cross-platform UI environment (which is important in times where companies like Apple refuse to do anything but HTML except for their completely proprietary technologies, with no desire to allow companies like Adobe or Microsoft to put their technologies on their platforms). HTML’s strength is a bit more on document centric things, although it can also be used for many typical UIs. But HTML isn't Silverlight when it comes to rich experiences (no, not even HTML5 is… watch my recent WPF/SL productivity and styling video (here) and tell me how you’d build the same thing in HTML5 productively). Each technology has its place. And obviously, neither the move from HTML4 to HTML5 nor the Silverlight support for Windows Phone invalidates or changes that.

Why do I know all this, you might wonder? Am I just making this up?

Well, for one, networks like the MVP and RD communities have been ablaze with emails and discussions regarding the issue (with Microsoft being in the discussion). Clearly, no group (including Microsoft) has an interest in having anyone declare Silverlight to be unsupported. And that is good. Seeing that Microsoft puts great effort into damage control tells all of us that they want to make it clear that Silverlight is an important strategy. That in itself is an important message.

I also know what Scott Guthrie said at the keynote at DevConnections earlier this week (and after PDC). He re-stated that Silverlight (on the web as well as otherwise) is a key technology for Microsoft. He also stated that the Silverlight team is currently larger than it has ever been (a surprising statement, not in its core content, but because Microsoft practically never makes statements about team sizes).

In addition, statements have been issued by Steve Ballmer and Bub Muglia, clarifying what they had really meant to say and what Microsoft's position on Silverlight really is. Here are the links to these statements:

So there you have it! Time to move on and build some Silverlight apps! This has been needlessly disruptive already. I have used Silverlight as strategic technology in several of my companies, and I will continue to do so. And I will sleep better for it.

Posted @ 11:08 PM by Egger, Markus (markus@code-magazine.com)


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