Partners Ponder Silverlight's Future As HTML5 Looms

HTML5 and H.264 video

As noted elsewhere, Microsoft's recent declarations of HTML5 love have some partners wondering if Silverlight's future role will somehow be diminished.

Microsoft's stance is that while Flash and Silverlight are still relevant, HTML5 will be able to do 80 percent of what Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) are doing today, one source familiar with the matter told CRN this week. Flash and Silverlight will fill in parts of applications but won't be the primary platform for development once HTML5 arrives, said the source, who requested anonymity.

Microsoft has already expended considerable effort in getting partners on board with Silverlight, and companies like Richmond, Calif.-based Microsoft partner Vertigo Software have built high profile Silverlight Websites for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Vertigo has made big investments in getting up to speed on Silverlight and would stand to lose the most from any de-emphasis of the technology. However, the fact is that while HTML5 is the future, Silverlight is still the best way for Microsoft's design partner to meet their customers' needs today, says Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo.

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"You need Silverlight now to do the things that HTML5 will do tomorrow," he said. "There are areas of Silverlight that are going to be tough for HTML5 to touch for the foreseeable future."

Specific Silverlight strengths include high definition video, photo experiences with Microsoft's Deep Zoom technology and behind the firewall applications, according to Stanfield.

Silverlight is growing faster than the rest of .NET, in terms of adoption and new features, says Dave Meeker, director of emerging technology and co-director of Roundarch Labs, a Chicago-based Web development firm.

"Silverlight is a baby that needs some love and attention. It’s come incredibly far in the last few years, and that’s because Microsoft has put a lot of resources into it," Meeker said.

But while Silverlight isn't going to disappear, partners say its role within the Microsoft developer ecosystem is likely to change over time. Microsoft has already made Silverlight the platform for native application development in Windows Phone 7, a move that was cheered by developers.

In the future, "it would be a smart move by Microsoft to leverage all that they’ve learned from the bleeding edge of Web developers around tooling, workflow, and embracement of user experience design in the software development process, and spread things around to the .NET/Visual Studio developers," Meeker said.

The Silverlight-Windows Phone 7 revelation has been one of the biggest Microsoft stories of the year, but one source who's familiar with Microsoft's plans says the company is planning a "huge Silverlight announcement" in July, which is when Microsoft will hold its annual partner conference.