MIX - Little demand yet for Silverlight programmers

Indirect comparisons with Flash skills market bear evidence of long adoption slog ahead

Microsoft's Silverlight rich Internet application (RIA) platform has yet to gain traction among companies or programmers, according to two indirect measures of popularity.

Officially released just half a year ago, Silverlight is being downloaded and installed an average of 1.5 million times a day, Microsoft said during its MIX Web development conference in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

Microsoft says it's aiming for 200 million Silverlight downloads by the middle of this year.

But Adobe Systems' incumbent Flash platform remains far more popular, at least judging by the number of job ads demanding either skill, and sales of programming instructional books.

Letting the (job) market decide

In a search of nine leading career sites Computerworld checked on Tuesday, the ratio of jobs mentioning Flash or Silverlight heavily favored the former. Ratios ranged from a high of 67:1 in favor of Flash at Careerbuilder.com, to a still weighty 24:1 at Dice.com (see chart below).

All told, averaging ratios from the nine sites found programming jobs requiring Flash skills to be 41 times more plentiful than ones asking for Silverlight.

Silverlight jobs are out there, albeit in small numbers. Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com, both free search engines that aggregate ads from other job Web sites, turned up 613 and 593 positions asking for Silverlight skills, respectively.

At the same time, Indeed.com listed 19,945 Flash jobs while SimplyHired had 20,704 -- or about 35 times more than the Silverlight count.

SimplyHired also has a widget on its site that lets users easily graph job trends over time by entering key words. However, the data only runs from July 2006 to the end of December 2007 when, a SimplyHired spokeswoman admits, job postings tend to be lower because of the holiday season.

Silverlight jobs were downright paltry at sites such as Careerbuilder.com (29), Yahoo! Hotjobs (21) and LinkedIn.com (8). Other sites surveyed include:

Collegerecruiter.com : 250 for Silverlight, 10,199 for Flash, for a 41:1 ratio in favor of Flash

Monster.com: 116 for Silverlight, 3,922 for Flash, for a 34:1 ratio in favor of Flash

Jobster: 158 for Silverlight, 6,094 for Flash, for a 39:1 ratio in favor of Flash

Caveats include the higher probability that the word flash is used in a job ad to describe something other than the programming language -- though a cursory skim of the results at various sites didn't turn up any examples -- than an esoteric term such as Silverlight.

Also, results at some sites, especially those at aggregators such as Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com, may count ads for the same job multiple times.

Making books on market share

Sales of programming books have also been tracked by market researchers, most notabl O'Reilly Radar, to gauge interest in computer languages.

According to a search of Amazon.com, there are currently 43 times more Flash than Silverlight programming books, with 21 books in the computers category related to Silverlight, but 938 Flash books.

The contrast in sales between the top five Amazon.com bestsellers with either Silverlight or Flash in the title was smaller.

According to Nielsen BookScan, each Flash book has generated about 4-5 times the sales of its Silverlight counterpart. (Of course, no title was likely to match anything in Oprah's Book Club -- the most popular has only sold 9,000 copies.)

Christian Wenz, the author of two Silverlight books published by O'Reilly, said he didn't know how well those books are selling.

"Adobe Flash, which I have covered in several successful books for the German market, has an enormous market share and a large user base, so total book sales should be higher there," Wenz wrote by e-mail. "I think twelve months from now we will know whether Silverlight will have a chance in the market or not."

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