Microsoft’s Silverlight was debuted a little over a week ago. This is their competitor product to Flash.
The first thing I wanted to find out about Silverlight was why would I use it over Flash? Their pages designed to answer this question (indirectly) left me feeling as if they’ve just copied the concept of Flash and have added nothing.
Digging around the Microsoft blogosphere turns up some hints that Silverlight may include support for Microsoft’s PDF competitor. So embedded document viewer instead of a separate plugin? Meh. Perhaps dynamically produce these documents within a Silverlight application? An interesting idea, but not exactly groundbreaking stuff.
It’s nice to see that this product will be supported on multiple platforms including a FireFox plug-in (I don’t see an Opera one) and support for Macs. Cool. However support for Linux is lacking, and that will hurt Silverlight’s chances a bit, but not much.
I gave Silverlight a test drive today. First thing you see on the Silverlight homepage is a video. Ah, so Silverlight does video playback, good. There’s a seek bar and volume control and an option to make the video full screen. All very nice… except 1) Flash does all this, 2) the UI is utter garbage and 3) it doesn’t show me anything unique about Silverlight.
So then I tried out the page turn media example. You’re shown a book, closed, and the words “page turn” on the cover. Great. Now what? Clicking on the book does nothing. Only if you notice the page curl in the lower left might you have a hint at what to do. Click and dragging this corner of the page opens the book up. Moving to the next page is done in similar fashion. Again, the UI for this sucks, there’s nothing unique about what I’m seeing, and what’s worse is you’re recreating PRINTED MATERIAL on a web page! This is the #1 rule to any beginning web designer: the web is not a printed page, don’t design like it is one.
The website and logo look like a page out of Apple’s design book. Lots of transparent, organic stuff. Yes, it’s Aqua.. 10 years after Aqua was introduced.
Now I will tell you exactly where Silverlight may prove quite powerful, even if Microsoft can’t seem to make the point in a direct manner on their own website. It’s the development tools. There will be a plethora of developer tools. It ties into dot Net, which is a fairly stable and well established platform. Developing Silverlight applications should prove to be quite easy. However the very well established Flash community already provides many tools and support for developing Flash/ActionScript applications. I really don’t think think Silverlight being tied into dot Net is a dominating reason to use Silverlight.
My initial impression is that it’s a cheap, bloated Flash knock-off. That Flash is already established on a large percent of the existing browser market (98% I think, if we believe Adobe’s numbers), it already does what Silverlight promises to do.
The Silverlight website does not inspire confidence or motivate me to develop in Silverlight. I’m certain Microsoft is aware that they need to provide features through Silverlight that are better and/or different from what Flash delivers. I’m sure there are obvious differences too. I just wish someone would tell me what they are. So far as I can tell, the dot Net tie-in and the use of Windows Media Player file formats are the only differences and, to be honest, I really don’t want either of those to begin with.
So why should I care about or use Silverlight?