Posted by: kurtsh | April 23, 2007

INFO: Top 10 reasons why “Microsoft Silverlight” will succeed

A week or so ago, we finally unveiled the our cross platform audio/video media software.  Microsoft Silverlight was announced at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) and presents our first entree into the cross-platform interactive applications & media streaming market.

I’ve read some… well… very poorly informed web articles on this topic spouting venom like "who needs this when the war’s already won by Flash" and "Silverlight is dead out the door" without even considering why some people might gravitate toward it relative to other standards. 

So I decided to write my own ‘English-language’ blog entry on it.

  1. It’s not about "copying Flash"
    This is the part that most people have a problem understanding:  This really isn’t about "copying Flash".  Although there are some key intersections in functionality between the two, Silverlight’s goals are very focused on what our Microsoft technology-using customers want from Microsoft itself.

    I’ve paraphrased what Joe Stegman said on his blog but basically, we have a very different point of view from Adobe.  Silverlight was created as a result of talking to Microsoft’s customers about what it is that they wanted.  Very consistently, it was expressed that customers want to:
    – Be able to leverage their Windows Media encoded intellectual property across both Windows & Macintoshes over the Internet.
    – Use their Microsoft developers & their Microsoft development environments (like version control) for creating applications & interfaces on the Internet, not just the desktop.
    – Have a richer web development environment that integrates well with AJAX technologies & Web 2.0 type technologies.

    Ultimately, Silverlight is about providing a continuum for developers/designers/CTOs across the full Microsoft developer/designer product offering.  Note that the value of Silverlight extends beyond the Microsoft developer as we’ve tried to make it easy and approachable for a broad range of users and scenarios but first and foremost it must be consistent with other Microsoft product offerings. 

  2. Two words:  Content protection
    Attention media creators:  There is absolutely no way to prevent people from stealing one’s content if it’s streamed over Macromedia Flash.  If it’s using Flash video, you can record it digitally, save it, and retransmit it or post it elsewhere.  Regardless of the codec, which is either Sorenson or On2’s stuff, Flash Video (FLV) is always capturable and there are numerous tools on the Internet that give you the ability to do it.  I’ve seen some companies try to pervert the stream by obscuring the data in some way, but it’s virtually always reversable.  For example:  Here’s a tool that will download any video from YouTube, Google Video, or Soapbox.

    Silverlight will provide a streaming architecture with optional DRM-protection based on the experience we’ve had with the WM9 codec – making it very difficult to capture intellectual property programmatically.  Barring having someone use a Sony Handicam against a laptop screen, people will have a devil of a time siphoning off multimedia IP.

  3. Media moguls love it for the "quality experience".
    This ain’t no kiddie production tool.  Silverlight is based on the 10 years of research & evolution behind Windows Media. 

    In the multimedia space, this is a product that’s squarely focused on media quality, media tools, and media needs.  Born of the research & technology behind VC-1, the codec selected as a standard for BluRay & HD DVD high definition DVD formats, as well as the platform technologies of Microsoft’s streaming technologies, meaning all of Windows Media’s existing tools, services, 3rd party support, and programmability, this is immediately a product that produces higher quality audio/video such as true 720p HD quality, 5.1 digital surround sound experiences that are copy protected and piped all over a single 1.5Mb connection.

    Additionally, thoughtful technologies like the ability to seamlessly provide advertisements within video or animations provide media companies with an immediate foundation to make money on.

    And just like the iHD menuing technology used in HD DVD, Silverlight provides ample support for content-specific overlays:  The ability to have content layered over an existing video or animation specific to the content – not just the player.  So for example, a director could "circle" a mistake in a video posted online while his head is shown in a picture-in-picture square at the bottom right hand corner of the video window.  Or maybe the content provider would like a  custom menuing system on the screen hovering over the playback video specific to just that video – it’s completely possible and the menu would be independent from the player itself.  So "The Hunt for Red October" could have a customized "Stop-Play-FFwd" overlay buttons that look like "torpedoes" floating over the running video.  Then maybe "The Matrix" might have a menuing system that looks completely different when played from the exact same page, all because the overlays are specific to the content being delivered.

    To be clear, the media & broadcasters at NAB didn’t just "like" Silverlight – they loved it:  Microsoft Silverlight won "Best in Show" at NAB.

  4. This isn’t a ‘one or the other’ war.
    Newsflash:  Both Flash & Silverlight can coexist, but more importantly, they’re complimentary in many areas.  The most important thing to remember is that consumers don’t have any insane religion around Macromedia Flash like Macintosh users have about Apple:  They’ll use anything they need to get at content professionals produce & publish on the web.  I know this will shock some because the proponents of Flash that I talk to seem to really believe that the world cares if video is streamed using Flash or not.  "People like having just one engine", "Users like having a simple standard", "Flash is a recognizable, efficient technology", etc. etc. etc. 

    Folks, people install Flash’s runtime because… well… they want to see some content.  Otherwise, they don’t really care.  To them, Flash is just a necessary evil.  They’d just as well install a 1MB client as well to experience content from a major motion picture studio or TV network.  Between Flash & Silverlight however, I believe moving forward the content companies will choose Silverlight when it comes to broadcast, high fidelity media.

  5. Developers, developers, DEVELOPERS!
    Anyone developing with Visual Studio… anyone developing within a professionally versioned development environment for C#/C++/Visual Basic… anyone using Microsoft development tools & libraries can develop great programs, great backend code, and great experiences for Silverlight using the tools they already own.  And they can have that product on both Macs & Windows.

    And if they want to leave the end user visuals to someone else – no problem.  That’s what using XAML is all about in Silverlight:  Separating design from code.  They can either have someone else develop those front end experiences using other tools and simply plug in their code later… or they can choose to learn the Expression Suite of tools to do-it-themselves.

    For the uninitiated, Macromedia Flash has its own language, its own development environment, and its own group of developers using their own libraries. 

    Dan Rayburn, heavyweight in the Streaming Media industry (of StreamingMedia.com) agrees.
    As Sean Alexander has echoed, Macromedia Flash can’t do the stuff that Silverlight can.

  6. It… simply… costs… LESS!
    In every way, Silverlight will have a lower total cost of ownership than Flash.

    From licensing its technology to providing a sufficient server backend to having a high value infrastructure for monitoring & maintaining the application serving ecosystem, Silverlight will save content providers money from day one. 

    Licensing costs for using Silverlight will be cheaper than what On2 and Adobe charges and using Windows Servers for broadcasting will be the cheapest way to provide a complete infrastructure not just to host media but also to collect customer information, develop custom solutions for, and monitor & manage the infrastructure using off-the-shelf tools.

    For the professionals out there, you’ll be able to distribute on-demand Windows Media (WMV) content from an IIS in Windows Server – and that’s all you’ll need.  You won’t need to buy a Flash Media Server nor will you need to license anything else.

  7. Client platform opportunity is everywhere.
    It’s not just about Windows & Macintoshes.  XBox 360, Media Centers, Windows Mobile Smartphones, Pocket PCs, DVR players, even basic televisions with Windows Embedded in them… all of these can consume Silverlight content because it’s built on technologies that are easy to incorporate or provide updates for on other delivery platforms.

    It’s also not just about YouTube, lest you think this is about the war for silly Jackass-like pwned videos.  It’s also about broadcasting professionally created & licensed content.

    Why else would Major League Baseball, NetFlix, & Akamai all make commitments to using Silverlight?

  8. Technology Differentiators galore.
    One comment I read a lot of is, "What so different about Silverlight?"  "What’s so next-gen about it relative to Flash?" (I got that last one from someone from an Adobe employee)

    This week at MIX07, Microsoft’s conference for web developers and designers, we’re going to be rolling out the laundry list of "Hey look at what you can do with Silverlight" demonstrations that differentiate it from Flash.  As soon as those are posted, I’ll fill all of this in being that I don’t want to post anything "before it’s time".

    And you know that overlays will be copiously used in at least one demo.

  9. Simple internationalization
    This isn’t a surprise for folks that understand what "separation of design from code" means but XAML and Silverlight’s support for East Asian characters, double byte characters and any East Asian font of Middle Eastern font makes it possible to use the same application code with different language designs to quickly & easiliy provide localized versions of the same Silverlight application.

    Additionally, the input mechanism treats all languages in the same way making input easily consumable across different locales.

  10. Upscaling to the "More Robust" Client
    Silverlight is a scaled down version of the Windows Presentation Foundation – the newly introduced environment/runtime for next generation interfaces on .NET 3.0 or Windows Vista based clients.

    If a developer feels that their need for a particular feature that is not available within Silverlight (real 3D, hardware-based video acceleration, and full document support) outweighs the need to keep the application lightweight, web-based & platform agnostic, it’s a simple switch for the developer to begin developing against WPF.

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How to install Silverlight CTP (Feb 2007):

How to demo Silverlight:


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