Seeing the World Through Blinders – Blinded by the Silverlight

Microsoft recently released a new technology/product namedSilverlight.Many in the Microsoft-enthusiast community, seemingly only seeingthe world that Microsoft delivers to them, cheered in applauseat this innovation, declaring that it completelychanged the rules of the game: Soon we would see fat apps andweb apps dancing in the streets together, no longer segregated.

The world was freed from the awful tyranny ofHTML!

Microsoft, the story goes, innovated up some vector graphics anda way to interact with and transform them from script, changing theworld from the boring, raster-graphics monotony of yesteryear.

Amazing!

Wait — wasn’t SVG already apretty mature technology at the turn of thecentury Why yes, now that I think of it, I recalldeploying solutions that actually used glorious vector graphics,declaratively described and transformed with layers of vectorgoodness. Of course Microsoft, despite being on the SVG committee,didn’t actually support it themselves (by then they realized thatthe whole web thing was probably unhealthy to their operatingsystem stronghold, so such an incredibly rich addition to thebrowser was unlikely to occur), and instead one had to usethird-party plug-ins like Adobe’s SVG Viewer. Then of course thebanner was passed to the Macromedia cum Adobe Flash product, whererich, cross-platform, vertically-scaled vector graphics renderingprimarily occurs today (though SVG is revived through its inclusionin the standard release of Firefox, and is becoming a standardgraphic format for a certain domain of images on Wikipedia).

I imagine the brainstorming session that yielded the name”Silverlight” consisted of some people thinking “We’reinnovating up a Flash clone, so think of anything that remindsyou of Flash”. Silver light, aka a light bouncing from asilver-color flash enclosure, is hardly a stretch.

The product itself might be entirely worthwhile, but thus farnothing I’ve seen makes it any more compelling than Flash. Indeed,the limited targeted platforms of Silverlight — both from abreadth and depth perspective, the rank immaturity of the product,the grossly conflicted interests of its host, and the massiveubiquity of Flash makes Silverlight a contender that needs toreally wow to sell itself.

Nothing I’ve seen wows me any more than the existing Flash demoswow me (and even those aren’t very compelling, and many Flashimplementations are abusive overkill). The asinine sales videocertainly didn’t convince me.

All of that is pretty much irrelevant, though: Microsoft wantsto take a run at Adobe, hoping to get some strategic control tolever in the future. That’s fine, and if the product really doesprovide some sort of advantage above and beyond Flash toexcuse the massive disadvantages, then it’s definitely a productworth considering.

What really gets me irked, though, is the perceptive of some ofthis industry to only see the merit of certain solutions when theycome from their camp. I recall when .NET was in the initial betasand having a breathless, excited peer, fresh from their VisualBasic 6 nightmare, declaring the wonderful advantages that garbagecollection, JIT compilation, reflection, and so on brought todevelopment.

“If it’s so great now, why haven’t you been embracing Java foryears?” I asked.

He had no answer. I truly think he was completely unaware thatwhat he was describing was already available. This sort of virginenthusiasm, with cheerleaders completely blind to other solutionsavailable to them, is far too common.

WPF itself is a decent addition to the .NET Framework (althoughthe name “.NET3.0” is absurd), and it does add a lot of whiz-bang, but theyneed to do a better job of selling it than videos like this. For all the talk about improving userinteraction during that video, everything they showed managed toslow user interaction, reduce data density in a detrimental way,and overall just add junk that detracted from the experience of theapp, but remarkably it’s what people always first try to use tosell things like this.