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Microsoft Silverlight no silver bullet

an image of the Adobe and Microsoft logosEmbrace. Extend. Extinguish. That was the mantra. Well, that was then and this is now.

Over the past few months, Microsoft have been busying themselves with their Expression range of creative tools, the idea of which is to bridge the perceived yawning gap between developer and designer.

A good idea, for sure, and all of this ernest industry has yielded some good reviews (PC Pro, PC Magazine, Vitamin.)

However, I’m not sure the gap between designer and developer is that big any more. You only have to look to the job classifieds to see that prospective employers are looking for people with a broad set of skills.

Microsoft have some momentum behind them, in terms of marketing strength, and their vast developer resources, but over time (and not wanting to doubt their accountants) I don’t think Microsoft Expression is going to cut it with the creative crowd, certainly not to the tune of $1bn which is what Microsoft require to make any of this worth their while.

As I see things, there’s five good reasons why Adobe aren’t to be displaced.

  1. The monster that is the Adobe Photoshop platform. ‘Nuff said.
  2. Now that Adobe have successfully, and largely seamlessly absorbed Macromedia, they now have the Flash platform at their disposal.
  3. Adobe are much the more experienced when it comes to web standards, something that’s hard to replicate,…
  4. Especially when the internal politics and the formidable ‘wheels within wheels’ myriad agendas of Microsoft are always going to come first.
  5. In terms of perception, Microsoft don’t have that much going for them in an industry largely dominated by people quite happily using Macs with Adobe software running on them.

So when Microsoft go after Flash territory, I have to wonder just what they’re hoping to achieve.

The people I know who use Flash – and when I say use, I mean they live in the damn thing – love Flash. So it’s difficult for me to envisage a time when Silverlight makes even a passing scuff, let alone a dent in Flash.

Then there’s Microsoft’s carrot-dangling attempt to draw people towards Windows Vista by making their Expression range Vista-only, with no mention of Mac-compatibility anywhere to be seen:

“’Microsoft, historically, has never demonstrated a commitment to maintaining a cross-platform solution,’ Bruce Chizen, CEO of Adobe, said in an interview Tuesday in Tokyo. He cited Windows Media Player and Internet Explorer as examples of Microsoft products that are still being developed for Windows but have been ended for the Mac platform.”

It’s interesting that Chizen should discuss the issue of cross-platform compatibility, which to me is more than a tacit admission that Adobe again value the Mac platform, which wasn’t always the case.

And with the up-take of Vista not being anywhere near what Microsoft were hoping for, this carrot has thus far seen few nibbles.

The idea of ‘stand-alone’ applications is now an anachronism. Just look at the the Adobe Creative Suite, for example. In that regard, Microsoft aren’t exactly an also-ran. They’ve read the suite playbook from cover to cover, and you could argue they’ve even written a good portion of it over the years.

But that’s not the half of it these days. In fact, the likes of Microsoft Expression and Adobe Creative Suite are just the content creation aspect, the delivery is where the action is these days.

So whatever Microsoft have by way of a competitor to Adobe Apollo needs to make an appearance and pretty soon, too.

What with Adobe rolling out Apollo, working closely with the Mozilla Foundation, and their curious tie-in with Apple’s WebKit, not to mention Artemis, whose handle is: “Apollo + Artemis: these Greek twins have got to irk Microsoft” You can see the scale of the challenge Microsoft have to surmount.

What’s that I hear? Distant drums? Swords clashing against shields? Or the quiet, studious heads-down efforts of an army of people working with standards as a matter of course rather than a means to an end…

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By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.