Has Microsoft got the right attitude with Silverlight and HTML 5?

Last week, Microsoft spent a day talking about Silverlight 5, the new version of their browser plugin that competes with Adobe Flash and that powers their Windows Phone 7 devices. While there were a lot of new announcements with video capabilities and better integration with the operating system, do developers really need another browser plugin or another technology meant to fuse the web and the desktop?

For example, HTML and JavaScript are becoming desktop development platforms in their own right. The not-so-successful Adobe Air software allowed developers to build HTML and JavaScript web applications to run cross-platform on the desktop; and web apps are becoming more and more common. Even in Microsoft’s own IE 9, you can “Pin” web pages to your task bar, so they show up and behave just like normal websites.

However, Microsoft clearly still views HTML 5 as an inferior technology; one MSDN blog post states “The family is growing: big daddy WPF, slinky Silverlight, and HTML 5 Jnr”. Given how much effort and marketing they have put behind the HTML 5 support in IE 9, as a developer working with these tools every day and depending on them for livelihood, is this really the attitude that you would want to see from the company? Despite Microsoft providing Windows and Mac clients for Silverlight and the best efforts of the open-source Mono project, Silverlight is nowhere near as pervasive and widely used as common web technology (and available on nowhere near as many devices, Windows Phone 7’s included for browser-based Silverlight at least). Perhaps there is still some work to be done on Microsoft’s part to make sure that now it has embraced the new technology in HTML 5 it is not falsely proclaiming victories of something that clearly does not have the advantage.

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