Flash and Silverlight, maybe 2 strangers passing in the crowd

Rob Abbott tells me that he would train for the Boston Marathon differently than he did for the 2007 Miami Marathon. Why you ask? Because, the conditions are different and require totally different preparations for the runner. The Boston one is obviously/usually colder, while the Miami race is almost completely flat. 

In reading the amazing account of Silverlight on Techrunch today, it became a little easier for me to grasp what Microsoft’s new media player really is. I really liked what I read. It confirmed a suspicion I had that Microsoft with Silverlight may actually be traveling a different, and somewhat opposite path to that of Adobe. 

Let’s dispense first with the commonalities. The streaming media capability is something both players share. Flash dominates with video, and no one can deny that this seemingly accidental Trojan horse feature of Flash has probably increased the distribution of the player more than anything else. When Adobe bought Macromedia, I knew video was probably the biggest asset from the Macromedia/Flash side. Looking at the details for CS3 Production Premium, seeing Premiere, AfterEffects and Flash bundled together, I see the reality of the merger. 

Microsoft wants and needs to be in this market. Video on the web, and more specifically within the browser, is a key (as in one of the most important) piece of the present and future of advertising. That’s why, with Silverlight, they’ve switched the batting order around a bit. Their Barry Bonds-of-a-feature, this free media/video hosting service, is brilliant. It competes with Flash Video and Google’s YouTube in a single swing. 

Reality has to start setting in here. Flash Player 9 lives and breathes (as of March 2007) on 84% of desktops. And while you may argue that if FP9 can spread that fast by 9 months, won’t Silverlight do the same? NO. Flash Player 9 spread that quickly because 80%+ of desktops already had Flash Player 8, and 90%+ of desktops already had Flash Player 7, and so on, and so on. That’s more than just browser plug-in legacy, that’s immortality. 

But the thing that really interests me here, why I think these two players are heading in different directions is this (excerpt from the Techcrunch post by Nik Cubrilovic): “Developers can simply take their existing Javascript and copy it into Silverlight … Silverlight applications can access and manipulate the browser DOM (meaning they can reach outside and into the webpage itself) …”. 

Flash developers and designers will see that feature and feel as if they just walked into a cave and through a web of spiders. ‘Get them off me, get them off me’. Seriously, for the most part (yes, I said most), the reason many Flash developers ARE Flash developers is to avoid over-inventive JavaScript and over-manipulative DOM access. 

ActionScript seems to re-invent itself each time out (a good thing!), while it’s hard to see how Microsoft’s use of a lite dot net (CLR) and JavaScript will provide much further growth and advancement for their player.

Adobe is making a big jump into the desktop environment with Apollo, making it easy to develop desktop applications with the Flex Framework and ActionScript. Microsoft is making a big jump into the web environment with Silverlight, trying to offer an alternative to web application development with a lighter version of .Net and native JavaScript and XAML support. Will they collide, or are both companies running two totally different races?  

Here’s my prediction: Look for Adobe to survive and thrive by buddy-ing up further with Firefox and making more than just friends with Apple. And as for Microsoft, I can tell you that readers of this blog are still using IE about 2-to-1 over Firefox. If Microsoft ever flicks their magic switch and includes Silverlight in IE, there could be some actual competition here. 

(That reminds me, to the one visitor of this blog reading it from a Playstation Portable browser, remember to wear two pairs of gloves when you’re in the Rockies.) 



John Dowdell

I hear you, on many of these observations. (Predictions I’m not so good on. 😉

One thing which really put the MS plugin in context of the overall MS business was this Ray Ozzie quote in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer yesterday:
“Advertising is actually the truly important thing to look at… Microsoft, I believe, has to have a world-class ad economic engine, needs to innovate and partner in order to make sure that we have a good ad ecosystem, a good set of inventory in order to make it attractive.”

To build up a strong video advertising system, they need their developer customers to become familiar with the types of presentations people have been making in SWF the past five years. To control their video advertising channel, they need to control the desktop engine. They’re selling the “Experience Matters” idea into their current developer base, not necessarily to the world at large. Their vision of getting back to 20% growth rates for the stock price involves owning the complete advertising chain. All the rest is extraneous to this goal.

(For Player adoption rates, partly that’s due to the prior auto-update presence, but I think the greater reason is the pull of great content — nearly every major site uses SWF to go beyond text, the most exciting stuff on the web requires the Player — I’ve seen the worldwide acceptance of SWF production as being the key factor in the insanely rapid Player adoption rates among consumers.)


Josh Tynjala

It’s interesting that you still have a 2-to-1 ratio of IE users to Firefox users. Last time I checked, my blog received about 60% of its hits from Firefox.


At polyGeek.com it’s FF over IE 54% to 34%.

I’ll support your statement that many Flash developers were pushed into Flash because browser DOMs suck. I was never an HTML/Javascript coder who tried to strive for standards. I didn’t know or care what the standards were. I just wanted pages that worked. And getting things to work was becoming more and more of a hack every day. Flash == stability.

In the battle for developers I can’t really imagine that many will switch. I think that Adobe-centric developers picking up MS tools will be few, and visa-versa. If either has a slight advantage I’d say it’s Adobe because Flex/Apollo are so compelling.

The real battle is for all the developers who don’t use either MS or Adobe products/platforms. I think that’s where Adobe has a huge advantage. Then again, I’m an Adobe-centric developer so what do I know? 🙂


I know most developers are using Firefox these days. However, I still get a large amount of traffic for the “Gadgematch” [http://www.chuckstar.com/blog/?cat=6] (consumer electronics and gadget review) posts that I do.

While we’re on the topic of web stats, I was shocked to see that over the past 3 months, 84% of my search engine traffic comes from Google.

Great comments so far. Thank you.


While the two players do support video streaming, don’t overlook the fact that streaming video is required to run on Windows 2003 Server. That’s lock-in on both client and server OS (given Microsoft’s history with things like Java and IE, I’ll believe cross-platform client support when it’s still being maintained four years from the real launch). Additionally, don’t forget the complexity of the Microsoft CAL licensing. It’s unclear what type of CAL Media Server requires from their licensing site, you could be liable for purchasing CAL licenses for Mac users if you want streaming video.


I am one Flash developer who has made integrating with JavaScript and the DOM an everyday activity. Flash (the original AJAX) has had the ability to maintain an asynchronous connection with its host (DOM) for some time.

Yeah Flash is very cool, but Silverlight does sound interesting. Thanks.

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