File Under: Browsers, HTML5

Microsoft’s Sticky Position: Silverlight or HTML5?

Microsoft is deeply invested in two key technologies for building web apps: its Silverlight runtime, which requires a plug-in to work in web browsers, and HTML5, which has many of the same key capabilities, but is plug-in-free, is friendlier to mobile devices and will be heavily supported in the next version of Internet Explorer.

Tech blogger Tim Anderson has written a couple of posts Thursday speculating how Microsoft should “sell” the Sliverlight story to developers who are excited about HTML5 and the coming advancements in Internet Explorer 9.

The first post has some candid remarks from former Microsoft Silverlight product manager Scott Barnes, where he says, in some cryptic tweets, that there’s “a faction war” happening inside Microsoft over HTML5 and Silverlight.

According the Anderson, Microsoft is having an increasingly hard time positioning Silverlight as an attractive option for developers who see that HTML5 can do much of the same stuff. IE9 beta is due this month. It will offer hardware acceleration and direct access to the Windows 7 desktop, plus all of the other capabilities of a modern browser, like super-fast JavaScript performance. So, it’s not going to get any easier.

The Silverlight team has been on the defensive recently, with Microsoft’s head of developer platforms Brad Becker arguing last week that Silverlight does indeed have a place on the HTML5-powered web, where it’s used to power rich apps like games, teleconferencing apps, and DVR-like streaming apps. There is no doubt, though, that the web is catching up.

In Anderson’s second post, there’s this nugget:

Despite Microsoft’s efforts to distinguish them, there is considerable overlap between what Silverlight does, and what HTML5 in IE9 does, especially when in the browser. There is also the Apple problem: HTML applications will run on iPhone and iPad, but Silverlight will not. What if Microsoft focused on the new IE engine instead of Silverlight, supporting it properly in Visual Studio, and providing ways for developers to create out-of-browser apps that run with full trust and have access to local system APIs? This would be along the same lines as the Palm WebOS and Google’s Chrome OS.

So, where does it make the most sense for Microsoft to play its chips?

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