Will Silverlight really kill Flash?

Silverlight logo

Silverlight is Microsoft’s new browser plugin for Rich Internet Applications, and since the unveiling of the latest alpha version it has been dubbed a “Flash killer” by many commentators. Silverlight is a Flash competitor to be sure, but a Flash killer? I think that may be overstating the case.

Amongst all the hype about the death of Flash I have also found a handful of articles that cast doubt on Silverlight’s chances of success, but on the whole I think they miss the mark somewhat. Two criticisms leveled against Silverlight are its lack of availability on the Linux platform, and potential indifference from end users, neither of which I see as the major challenge to Silverlight adoption.

Let’s consider the issue of Linux support. For a long time Flash support for Linux was very poor, yet that did little to hinder the adoption of Flash on other platforms. Even if Microsoft themselves don’t deem it worthwhile porting the Silverlight plugin to Linux, there are already independent developers working at the task, and it’s just a matter of time until the OS is catered for.

As for the issue of end user adoption, to my mind what is actually more crucial is Silverlight’s acceptance by developers and designers. It is not a question of users seeing no need to switch away from Flash, but rather website developers feeling compelled to make the switch to Silverlight. If developers take Silverlight to heart, get excited about the platform and promote it in the web community, its adoption rate could be very fast. If that happens, end users will have no choice but to follow. After being welcomed to three or four websites with the greeting “you need to download the Silverlight plugin to view this site”, only the most stubborn user would still resist. On the other hand, if web designers and developers fail to become excited about the potential of Silverlight it will gain only a negligible market share, and end users will remain blithely unaware of its existence.

In my opinion this is the real challenge Silverlight faces, capturing the hearts of web designers and developers, especially those who currently work with Flash.

Microsoft certainly have their work cut out for them. If Silverlight is going to “kill” Flash, it stands to reason that the current field of Flash developers will need to abandon Flash and defect to Silverlight. Flash has a 10 year history and a robust developer community who will be unlikely to jump ship unless Silverlight proves to be a vastly superior product.

The other scenario in which Silverlight might “kill” Flash is if the flood of Silverlight applications is so enormous that Flash’s current market share seems insignificant by comparison. For this to happen, Silverlight will need to appeal to developers who are intrigued by RIAs, but don’t see Flash as a compelling proposition. However I expect Microsoft will face stiff opposition on this front too. After all, whichever way you slice it Silverlight still relies on a proprietary browser plugin, which is precisely what turns so many web designers off Flash to begin with. Silverlight does offer a “language neutral” scripting interface, as opposed to Flash’s reliance on Actionscript, which ought to ease the transition for newbies, but whether this is sufficient to eclipse its single vendor affiliation remains to be seen.

Regardless of whether Silverlight proves to be a runaway success, the next few years are bound to be a very interesting time for RIAs!

4 thoughts on “Will Silverlight really kill Flash?

  1. I have not heard much about Silverlight but in regards to whole killing off Flash I agree and do not think so.

    Like virb and the others, for it to kill of their competitors (myspace, flash etc) they need to offer better and feature more to kill off their competitors.

  2. Kalle says:

    In order for Sliverlight to even compete against Flash, it has to be “gurufied” and companies like 2Advanced and other Flash-using web agencies have to start using it. Silverlight has to attract the designers if Microsoft wants to succeed.

    Microsoft said that Vista would be a “wow”-experience, which it surely wasn’t, so I don’t believe them the slightest bit when they call Silverlight a Flash-killer.

  3. Jonathan says:

    @Kalle – Very true, and as it stands, the demos on the Silverlight site are amateurish and lackluster, which does little to help their cause. Although, I recently saw a talk by Shane Morris, a Microsoft’s “Experience Evangelist”, where he demonstrated a real-time video editing application built in Silverlight which was much more impressive. But for Silverlight to win over Flash designers its applications will need to be more than just impressive, they will need to knock people’s socks off.

  4. James says:

    Silverlight does have one secret weapon – automatic updates.

    I’m pretty sure that the silverlight plugin is available on ’em, whereas Flash plugins have to deal with 14 ‘are you sure you want to let me install this plugin’ messages on Vista. Microsoft can gain a following by making their plugin significantly easier to get installed, and kill off Flash that way.

    But it’s true, the major drive for the flash comes from content being produced with it, and not the other way around. And I can’t see anything in Silverlight that I don’t already have the know-how for with Flash / Flex / AIR…

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