Six factors that will decide the fate of Silverlight

Microsoft's Web development technology may have tough time gaining on Flash

4. Interest beyond traditional developers

Warden says present demand for Silverlight development in his field is "extremely low." He describes the amount of work a busy developer can get as "one [job] a day for Flash" compared with "one every four months for Silverlight."

"Most work I'm seeing [for Silverlight] is because the company is a Microsoft partner," he says.

Regardless, the analysts see significant interest in developing on the platform, even among those who are not programmers. "Many folks I know in the design community are taking a good look at it," says Hilwa.

DeMichillie is keeping an eye on the possibility of Silverlight making inroads in the enterprise. This could be a market in which Microsoft has an advantage over Adobe.

Silverlight is a threat to Flash and Flex for sure. For me, the really interesting competitors are companies like Google and Yahoo."

"The interesting question is when, if ever, will corporations turn to RIA [rich Internet application] technologies for internal applications. Microsoft clearly has a stronger presence among corporate developers. At this point, RIA development is overwhelmingly aimed at public Web sites," says DeMichillie.

5. AJAX, et al.

Silverlight is up against not only Flash, but also other established, and firmly entrenched, Web technologies. "Silverlight is a threat to Flash and Flex for sure. For me, the really interesting competitors are companies like Google and Yahoo who depend on the Web being primarily HTML/AJAX-based to serve up ads and provide other services," Cote says. "A new UI layer that runs on top of the Web could be a real hassle for services that are used to the more 'view source' nature of the Web."

Warden notes that a patched-together mix of Java, HTML and other technologies will pose probably the biggest challenge to Silverlight: "It'll be interesting to see if the .Net crowd does the same thing that Java guys are doing. Most .Net I see on the Web is simple HTML/CSS/JavaScript and AJAX stuff," he said, referring to Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

6. Co-existence in the market

Because it is installed on over 90 per cent of Internet-connected PCs, Flash will remain the default choice for most Web developers. For now.

"Flash Player is ubiquitous, and every developer takes that for granted. To win, Silverlight needs to have that perception, too," says Warden. "Users do not care what they install; they just care [that] what they are watching is relevant and cool."

He believes Microsoft is very committed to seeing Silverlight succeed, no matter what. "The amount of money, time and talent I'm seeing being thrown at it makes me fail to see how it won't succeed in some fashion," he says.

However, Microsoft will need to convince a high number of users to install Silverlight. DeMichillie estimates that as much as 80 per cent of Internet-connected PCs must have Silverlight installed in order for the platform to hold its own, in the market and among developers, against the status quo of Flash.

"Microsoft knows this is a prerequisite, which is why they are willing to spend money to make high-profile deals, like the one with NBC for Olympics coverage," he says.

DeMichillie foresees Silverlight eventually overcoming the dominance of Flash, but adds: "The market for these platforms is in the very early stages, so it's not a zero-sum game. Even in the longer term, I think coexistence is more likely than 'winner takes all.'"

Even Warden acknowledges that his business plans to do more Silverlight work, though "I don't want to do it because it looks like early [versions of] Flash, and I'm done with that. I want more challenging Flex work instead."

Howard Wen has reported on technology news (specializing in business, development, wireless, culture, gaming and open source) for several publications. He can be reached at www.HowardWen.com.

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