Microsoft Insists It's Not Putting Silverlight To Bed

Microsoft is attempting to quell the notion that Silverlight is becoming less strategically important to the company as it sets its sights on HTML5.

The dearth of Silverlight-related information at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference last week, along with Server and Tools Business President Bob Muglia's assertion that Microsoft has "shifted" its strategy on Silverlight as a cross-platform runtime, has sparked speculation that Microsoft may be quietly putting Silverlight to bed.

"Our Silverlight strategy and focus going forward has shifted," Muglia said last week in an interview with Microsoft blogger Mary Jo Foley.

However, in a Monday blog post, Muglia sought to clarify this comment and said Silverlight will continue playing a "very important role" in Microsoft's plans, both as a cross-platform runtime and as a development platform for Windows 7 and Windows Phone.

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"I understand that what I said surprised people and caused controversy and confusion. As this certainly wasn't my intent, I want to apologize for that," Muglia said in the blog post.

Next: Silverlight's Role In The HTML5 Future

HTML5 offers the broadest reach across Internet-connected devices, but Microsoft will continue working on Silverlight in browser scenarios, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said in a statement issued Monday. "Silverlight provides the richest media streaming capabilities on the web, and we will continue to deliver that on both Windows and Mac," Ballmer said in the statement.

Microsoft has spent the bulk of this year gushing over HTML5 and its ability to handle most of what Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) are doing today, and some developer partners have interpreted this as a foreshadowing of Silverlight's diminishing importance. But there's plenty of evidence elsewhere to suggest that HTML5 is taking a center stage position industry-wide.

"We didn't wait for Microsoft to tell us HTML5 is the future; we knew it the day [Apple CEO] Steve Jobs demoed the iPad without Flash," said Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, a Richmond, Calif.-based Microsoft partner that has built high profile Silverlight-powered Websites for the 2010 Winter Olympics and 2008 Democratic National Convention.

Silverlight will still play a role in partners' business since a fully functional HTML5 standard is still several years away, and because Microsoft has made Silverlight the platform for native Windows Phone 7 application development.

"We'll still do a lot of Silverlight for Windows Phone, corporate and live HD video, but there's a lot of interest in HTML5 from our clients," said Stanfield, who expects to see Microsoft tweak its web development tools Visual Studio, ASP.NET, Razor for HTML5.

Next: Silverlight's Window Of Opportunity Still Open?

Dave Meeker, director of emerging technology at Roundarch, a user experience and technology design firm, says Silverlight hasn't yet achieved the level of adoption that would make it a first choice for agencies and software developers that are looking for a rich client technology.

But Silverlight has proven a solid platform that competes well with some aspects of Flash and some features of HTML5, and so it will likely continue generating business for partners until a fully baked HTML5 arrives, Meeker said.

"HTML5 has some time left in the oven before the industry is ready to adopt it for really robust applications. That time is coming, but it isn't here yet," said Meeker. "For now, Silverlight is still in the game, and it's still another option for plug-in based content on the Web."