What is Silverlight and do I need it? — Glen
The Internet remains the biggest opportunity for most companies that are jockeying for your eyeballs and Silverlight is Microsoft’s attempt at gaining market share in the enormous Internet multimedia market (sometimes referred to as RIA – Rich Internet Applications).
Essentially, Silverlight is a competitor to Adobe’s Flash which currently has an estimated 90% market share; both are Web development platforms.
Most everyone is familiar with Adobe’s Flash as the engine that renders the videos at sights like YouTube.com and CNN.com, but it’s also the technology used for just about anything visual that has movement or animation (if you right-click on any video or animation that is being generated in flash, a dialog box will appear with the last item being “About Adobe Flash Player…”)
Microsoft’s approach with Silverlight is quite different from Adobe’s Flash in that it is currently more focused on application development (it works directly with the .NET development platform), but at the end of the day, they both want you to use their software to view video and rich media on the Internet.
In order for Microsoft to get more Web surfers to use the Silverlight viewing software (often referred to as a ‘plug-in’), they have to convince more Web site developers to use their development tools for generating multimedia content.
In order for more Web site developers to commit to using Silverlight development tools, they want to see more Web surfers that have the Silverlight viewing software installed, so it is a bit of a ‘Catch-22’ at the moment.
One of the highest profile partnerships that Microsoft landed for Silverlight was NBC’s Olympics Web site, which required the Silverlight software in order to view the live streams that were available during the games.
Oddly, now that the games are over, all of the archive videos at NBCOlympics.com are encoded using Adobe’s Flash. Many are speculating that NBC realized that 40 million US visitors to their Olympics site did not have Silverlight installed yet and that the extra annoyance of having to download the software in order to view the video was not worth the hassle.
So the real question is, do you need it? The answer to that question is different for everyone reading this and the sights you visit on the Internet will be the biggest factor. Until you go to a Web site that requires the download and you deem the content valuable enough to do so, you don’t need to install it.
Many of you may be seeing it as a download during Windows updates, which is another way to get it installed. In general, I am not seeing anything outside the ordinary problems for those that have installed Silverlight, so installing it before you find a need for it shouldn’t impact a properly running computer (never install anything new if your computer is not running properly – it just adds more variables to the problem).
Silverlight is in its infancy (Version 2 is currently in Beta testing and available here), so Microsoft has another long battle in front of it if it wants to grab market share away from Adobe.
If you happened to be a business and in the market for development tools for Web-based applications, you would do well to evaluate all of the options in the family of development tools offered by Microsoft including Silverlight in your search.