Spreading the Word
By Jonathan Goodyear
Unless you ve been living in Antarctica for the past year or so, you ve undoubtedly heard of Microsoft s dynamic new cross-platform Web development and video streaming technology, Silverlight, which is based on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). I ve noted several times in this column that Silverlight stands to play an important role in the future of Web development. That is, if it catches on.
What do I mean, if it catches on ? We re all on board, right? I agree that Microsoft is beginning to make great strides in attracting Silverlight developers (much more so than for its big brother, WPF, but that s a whole different topic). Regardless of how compelling it is to us developers, though, Silverlight will only reach critical mass if the runtime that is required to be installed on the client goes mainstream.
Enter the Summer Olympics. In a brilliant move, Microsoft and NBC teamed up to create http://NBCOlympics.com, a Web site that offers thousands of hours of Olympics video footage, available on-demand. All you need to do is download and install the Silverlight runtime. Perfect! As I write this, millions of users are installing Silverlight. We win!
Well, not exactly. The big problem is that NBC only purchased the broadcast rights to the Olympics in the United States. So, they have been forced to restrict access to the http://NBCOlympics.com Web site to IP addresses originating in the United States. So, aside from a few clever folks (names omitted to protect the guilty) who are playing some VPN tricks to gain access to the site from abroad, the big Silverlight coming out party is pretty much restricted to those of us who are States-side.
I ve been accused in the past of being a bit of an ethno-centrist, but even I can see that Microsoft needs a break-out application that has international visibility to push Silverlight out to the rest of the world (which, as it turns out, is a lot bigger than the United States). Microsoft is doing a pretty decent job of putting Silverlight applets on many of their Web properties, but most of those don t have broad appeal beyond software developers and business users. What surprises me greatly is that MSN Video (e.g., SoapBox) is still powered by Flash. In my opinion, Microsoft should be pushing to re-deploy MSN Video powered by Silverlight as soon as possible. Even though Silverlight 2.0 is still in beta, if it can power http://NBCOlympics.com, I m confident that MSN Video won t be any trouble.
An even bigger win would be if Microsoft could convince the big social network Web sites to utilize Silverlight applets. Given Microsoft s large ownership stake in Facebook, I think that it would be the most logical target. A few enterprising folks have created small Silverlight Facebook applications and games, which (if any of them catch on) could help tremendously on the Silverlight adoption front. Mass adoption, however, will only come with the implementation of Silverlight-based banner advertisements that appear site-wide.
Regardless of how Silverlight does among the masses, it will likely gain appeal quickly in the controlled environments of corporations who will immediately see the benefit of more powerful Web applications with frictionless deployment. With huge sites like YouTube still using Flash, though, Microsoft has a very difficult task ahead of them when it comes to driving end-user adoption of Silverlight. Microsoft always seems to have a few tricks up their sleeve, though, so I never count them out.
Jonathan Goodyear is president of ASPSOFT (http:// www.aspsoft.com), an Internet consulting firm based in Orlando, FL. Jonathan is Microsoft Regional Director for Florida, an ASP.NET MVP, a Microsoft Certified Solution Developer (MCSD), and co-author of ASP.NET 2.0 MVP Hacks (Wrox). Jonathan also is a contributing editor for asp.netPRO. E-mail him at mailto: [email protected] or through his angryCoder eZine at http:// www.angryCoder.com.