‘Silverlight’ Taking More Spotlight

Microsoft is running a beta test of its Download Center site powered by Silverlight 1.0, the company’s cross-platform, cross-browser plug-in for multimedia streaming.

As a way to showcase the development possibilities with the platform, the company is integrating Silverlight support into many of its own Web sites. And already, company watchers are tossing penalty flags over the move.

Take the blog NeoSmart Technologies, which bills itself as a “non-profit research and development organization.” The site is sounding the long-asked question about Silverlight: is this yet another case of Microsoft leveraging its dominance in one technology area to try to muscle out a well-ensconced competitor in another — in this case, Adobe’s Flash technology?

“Microsoft realizes (as has the rest of the geek community) that Silverlight is on the verge of being forgotten,” the post opined. “It’s a desperate move, there’s no doubt about it.”

Then again, the post could be trash-talking the move as a good defense in the battle between Flash and Silverlight, which has received positive reviews since it was previewed on Microsoft’s Download Center in November.

Also in November, the company converted its Microsoft.com home page to run on Silverlight 1.0, a Microsoft spokesperson confirmed to InternetNews.com.

Microsoft first demonstrated Silverlight at the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual confab in April 2007. The company released the final version of Silverlight 1.0 last summer, and an alpha version of 1.1 last spring. In November, Microsoft subsequently renamed 1.1 to Silverlight 2.0 and set the schedule for its release at some time this year.

The major benefit of Silverlight 2.0 over 1.0 is that it supports the .NET Framework and the advanced programming languages that work with it, while 1.0 only supports programming in JavaScript.

Several analysts have said that 1.0’s primary purpose was to get deployed on as many users’ PCs as possible, given Flash’s near total dominance of that technology area. Along the way, Microsoft has signed up a handful of high-profile customers, including Major League Baseball.

Tying use of Silverlight to Microsoft’s Web sites is a move meant to compel users to download and install the Silverlight plug-in, helping to expand Microsoft’s market share, the blog post suggests.

“Switching Microsoft.com over to Silverlight is a sure-fire way to get that attention … and depending on how it’s both marketed and carried out, it could be what it takes to make developers start taking Silverlight seriously,” the NeoSmart Technologies blog continued. Given that Microsoft.com garners some “60 million unique visitors a month — if Microsoft successfully pulls this off, that’s 60 million new Silverlight users in the first month alone!”

That may be part of the motivation, certainly.

However, says one long-time Microsoft observer, it is also a time-honored tradition at Microsoft for the company to use early versions of its own technologies and products in production. Referred to as “eating your own dog food” or merely “dog fooding,” it’s company slang for running pre-release versions of its software in production on its own computers.

The underlying premise is that running your business on your own software helps your developers figure out where the kinks, design errors, and bugs are more quickly.

It also has the positive side effect of showing that Microsoft has the confidence to run the products itself, and that helps lower customers’ resistance toward adopting them.

“You have to demonstrate that you’re loyal to your own products,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at researcher Enderle Group, told InternetNews.com. The argument, he said, goes Why would a customer take a chance with a Microsoft product if Microsoft doesn’t use the product itself?

Indeed, Enderle said, Silverlight is less than a year old, so it makes sense for the company to use it on its own sites. If that encourages users to download the plug-in, so much the better.

“I don’t think it’s nefarious,” Enderle added.

Microsoft officials declined to provide further details or timing of plans regarding deploying Silverlight on the company’s Web properties at this time. However, the company spokesperson defended Microsoft’s Silverlight strategy.

“Microsoft designed Silverlight to fit a broad range of applications that require reach and a richer user experience than HTML alone can offer … [and] is committed to adopting Silverlight and will be adding it over time as appropriate,” the spokesperson added.

The beta Download Center site is here.

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