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Contrary Opinion: Why Silverlight is Good for Adobe

Microsoft is competing with Adobe on its own turf - Adobe should rejoice!

While many see Microsoft Silverlight as an Adobe Flash killer, I actually think Adobe should rejoice that Microsoft is competing with Adobe on its own turf (i.e., media plug-ins) rather than putting all its energy, as it once did, into Web standards and innovation (IE 5.0 was the most robust and compliant Web browser of its time).

If Microsoft were to take a similar approach to the one it embraced in 1995, when it actually took the lead in Web technologies and provided the best Open Web browser implementation, new media functionalities such as video and 2D/3D would become an intrinsic part of the Web, making media plug-ins irrelevant to its future. In other word, if Microsoft were to go full Open Web (with SVG, Canvas, Smil, HTML 5, Video, and CSS3) Adobe Flash would be history in couple of years. However, Microsoft decided to follow Adobe’s plug-in strategy by forking visually rich capabilities into the plug-in world and throwing itself into a completely new market.

Why? Why follow when you can lead?

I think there are three main reasons:

1) Adobe is an easier target.

Between Adobe and Google, Microsoft might think it has a greater chance of winning against Adobe.

Microsoft has probably concluded that Open Web is a much less predictable entity given the complicated relationships among the various open source, standard, and commercial entities (e.g., Mozilla, Google, and Apple). Additionally, given Google and the open source community’s progress on the Open Web front, Microsoft might have feared being able to lead the way this time.

Thus, opting for the plug-in route had the advantage of slowing down Open Web technologies (and consequently Google) and narrowing down the competition to Adobe rather than Google and the open source community.

2) Expanding from the developer market to the designer market is safer.

The desktop software market is comprised of the three main following buckets: office productivity, developer tools, and designer tools. The only place where Microsoft is still not the leader is the designer tools segment, and that is where Adobe excels. Conversely, Adobe is seeing its next tools growth opportunity in the developer market.

Consequently, Microsoft and Adobe have created a new battleground, “designer-developer workflow” where they are both promoting an ultra rich visual experience for Web applications and positioning their respective tools and plug-ins as the ultimate solution for maximizing designer-developer productivity. Microsoft sees it as a way of leveraging its developer base to move into the designer market, and Adobe sees it as extending its designer market to the developer one.

While Microsoft could have focused on providing the best developer and designer tools for Open Web development, it probably felt more comfortable, as Adobe did, controlling the designer and developer experience by owning the language, runtime, and application model. Additionally, from a market standpoint, it is fair to assume that Open Web developers might not be as marketable as developers open to proprietary Web technologies. So from a business standpoint, Microsoft is opting for the safe route and is betting on what it knows best, controlling the developer, and now the designer, experience end-to-end.

3) Microsoft hopes to slow down commoditization.

Last but not least, Microsoft must fear that going full Open Web would backfire, by accelerating its operating system commoditization, and would give good wind to new operating systems, such as the mysterious and aptly named Google Web OS. Microsoft wants neither to fall too far behind on Open Web technologies nor to give them more momentum that they already have.


While I can understand each of these points, I still think that Microsoft’s lukewarm approach to Open Web technologies is the wrong strategy. The Web has always been open in nature, and making pixels fly faster or smoother will not alter that. Given all the passion and strategic interest surrounding it, the Open Web will happen with or without Microsoft. Microsoft would be better off fully embracing and leading Open Web technologies, as it did back in the late 1990s, and redefining the Web design and development market. If a disruption wave is coming your way, surfing it is better than being smashed by it.

I would even go further by saying that Silverlight is helping to maintain the Adobe Flash mainstream. Adobe Flash is an amazing piece of technology, by all accounts, and future versions are poised to be even better. While Silverlight might have some technical advantages here and there, overall, Adobe Flash is still the best media plug-in available as far as functionalities and reach. And given all its antitrust restrictions, Microsoft is even finding itself in a difficult position to aggressively distribute Silverlight. So at the end of the day, the more Microsoft is selling plug-in development to Web developers, the more Adobe will benefit. In fact, Microsoft Silverlight’s marketing department should be commissioned by Adobe.

If you liked this article a +1 on HN or a re-tweet are greatly appreciated. (see R-Tweets)


Disclaimer: This article is by no mean bashing or promoting Microsoft, Adobe, or Open Web technologies. Rather, it is simply an independent reflection on Microsoft’s current Web technology strategy.

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Jeremy Chone

Jeremy Chone is chief technology officer (CTO) and vice president of development and operations at iJuris, an innovative startup offering a rich Web application for lawyer collaboration and document assembly. In his role as CTO and vice president of development and operations, Jeremy is responsible for overseeing the company’s strategic direction for the iJuris service and technology as well as managing the service architecture, development, and operations.

Chone has more than 10 years of technical and business experience in major software companies such as Netscape, Oracle and Adobe where he has successfully aligned technology visions with business opportunities that deliver tangible results. In addition to a combination of technical and business acumen, Jeremy also possesses an in-depth knowledge of Rich Internet Application technologies, as well as holding many patents in the mobile and enterprise collaboration areas.

See Jeremy Chone's full biography

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