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Silverlight vs. Flash: the battle for the platform

The big news out of Microsoft this morning is Silverlight, their technology to compete with Adobe's Flash.  Fast, cross platform, client and server agnostic, and just 1 megabyte to download, according to Tim Sneath.  And with Adobe Flash 9 video on 84.3% of the net's desktops, it's no wonder Microsoft has taken an interest. 

Not to be outdone, Adobe has struck by previewing the Adobe Media Player, a standalone player that presumably may compete, some day, with the Microsoft player. 

Why?  Well, as noted in this morning's Wall Street Journal:

… Adobe's Flash is becoming a foundation for Internet applications that won't necessarily work only with Windows PCs. Microsoft is "afraid that Adobe is going to start convincing corporate developers to use Flash to start developing Web applications," says Greg DeMichillie, an analyst at the research firm Directions on Microsoft. "It's the Java threat but with better technology."

The competition to improve the customer experience is great.  But honestly, I'd be happier if (a) Windows Media Player could play a flash video and (b) Flash Media Player supported Microsoft codecs.  Throw Apple and Real into that mix, and I'd be a really happy camper.  Right now, my spiffy new Windows Vista PC feels a lot like Frankenstein's monster, as I battle with getting video from the different vendors to play. The proliferation of codecs and players serves nobody's interests but the software companies. 

{ 12 comments… add one }

  • John Dowdell April 16, 2007, 7:29 am

    "I'd be happier if… Flash Media Player supported Microsoft codecs."

    Hi Alec, that seems difficult to me to achieve… the full set of codecs available in WMP (or QT, or Real) is what makes them so large, and what reduces downloads and adoption rate.

    Macromedia Flash Player 6 and above included the Sorenson Sparc codec, and Adobe Flash Player 8 and above also include the On2 VP6 codec. The easy download was one of the reasons why it achieved 85% desktop reach within its first nine months of distribution. (This exceeds the reach of *all* versions of Windows Media Player, Apple QuickTime, or Real Player, accumulated over the years.) http://www.adobe.com/products/player_census/flashhttp://weblogs.macromedia.com/jd/archives/2007/04


  • Alec April 16, 2007, 7:35 am

    No doubt, John. The media format wars, however, are 15 years old. It's gotten tiresome.

  • John Dowdell April 16, 2007, 9:06 pm

    Just checking… when you say "format wars", are you thinking of others intentionally attacking each other, or is it more like the difficulty you face when reconciling varioius clientside implementations of some functionality?


  • Alec April 18, 2007, 2:37 am

    I currently have DivX, QuickTime, Windows Media, Flash and Real codecs and associated players loaded on my system. Granted, some players can play multiple codecs, but I've found that you get a better experience with the native format in the native player, especially when one of these companies comes out with a new natively supported format that the others haven't implemented.

    From my POV, as a consumer, that's a terrible experience.

    From a strategy perspective, locking content to a particular format and player makes sense. So, each manufacturer persists in this customer unfriendly behaviour.

  • Steve April 19, 2007, 1:54 pm

    Nice, I guess. Though it doesn't seem like Silverlight is truly cross platform. Restricted to a very narrow set of browsers and no Linux support. It's also displaying things that Flash has done for awhile very, very well. If the Flash IDE wasn't as well done as it is – it is likely that the platform would never have taken off to the point we see it today. I'm all for competition, but am leary of dilution of the market. Silverlight will shine where desktop applications can have identical support to Web apps. But the Web consumers will be a restricted market, and that's a problem for this new platform.

    Flash has a light feel to it, is easy to develop in, can be pushed out to anything with a display (Silverlight on the Wii, I think not), is flexible enough to accomplish anything most folks will throw at it, and it's finally starting to grow up. Silverlight was just born. Good luck Microsoft:)

  • FerretFan April 19, 2007, 8:58 pm

    Silverlight will die! Flash is already prevailing. Silverlight will have to take down the great media streamer that is flash, it is impossible. Microsoft needs to stick with Xbox, Office, and Windows, and get off of this wierd "creative tangent" with knock offs of Create Suite (Microsoft Expressions) and Flash (Silverlight). AND DON'T MAKE AN IPOD KNOCK-OFF, DUMP THE ZUNE!!!!!!!!

  • Marcel April 28, 2007, 2:58 pm

    I don't think it's a format war as such.
    Silverlight and Flash can happily coexist, even on one page.

    What this is about to me is how people working with Microsoft IDE's and servers will now be able to use the power of their systems to create RIA's.
    I have been working in this business for a very long time, and I work with a lot of different tools.
    Visual Studio is hands down the best development environment. The Flash IDE is made by designers I think, and most of the time the designer is the same guy that is writing the code… the Flash IDE is a creative tool.
    That's fine, but it doesn't scale … hence, altho Macromedia tried hard for a long time, there is zero Flash adoption where serious applications are concerned.
    Silverlight is very different. It builds on top of Visual Studio (or it will completely once they get the C# runtime in there), the creative element to it boils down to a few XML files that can be editted seperately without even knowing what the underlying code does.

    Then where streaming is concerned … Flash video is cool, Flash server solutions are immature compared to MS' Windows Media server. The only way you can get Flash video to scale up in a cost effective way is by using progressive downloads and not stream at all. That in itself scales very badly cos there is no way of managing the bandwidth … progressive downloads are way less efficient than actual streams.
    This is where Windows Media comes in … Windows Media is cheap, it scales to millions of concurrent users and it is very powerful in the sense that the server itself has an extensive object model that you can code against with your favorite .NET language. Silverlight unlocks all that power for every platform it (will) run(s) on.

    What I'm saying is this … it's a big mistake to look at Silverlight as just some new rasterization engine … or to compare it to Flash feature per feature. It is not Flash … it is something that allows Flash like experiences in top of an extremely powerful set of development tools and server solutions.
    I use Flash as little as I can, simply because it is nightmarish to maintain. I simply cannot use it for critical functionality. And if you look around the web, you'll notice I'm not the only one who feels that way.
    Silverlight on the other hand I expect to be using as much as HTML, and I expect to be using it even for critical applications. It's maintainable, plugs right into a professional development environment (Source Safe etc), has killer debug tools etc etc.

  • Reggie September 7, 2007, 9:08 am


  • Shamunda October 22, 2007, 12:34 pm

    Well, with most being said and done – when MS really puts their minds to it..there's very little standing in there way of success.

    Success for MS can come in several forms. Whether it's by popularity, quantity, or simply a choice of you being able to 'choose' silverlight or flash (which would be the only two leading technologies in that space).

    Who started this misleading concept that MS 'must' be number one? It simply wants to give you something (in their own opinion) that's better. There's nothing there that says it will remove flash. So even if flash still remains number one, number two will still be MS and anything else in that space won't matter…So they still come out on top.

    Eventually over time they silverlight will become a namesake just as .NET has become.

    Either they will make a dent. With windows being the desktop of choice for "most"; eventually it will be a 'feature' that will be part of the update stream that will be included.

    I've played with development for silverlight, and I can honestly say from a technological perspective…Flash has a long way to go before what silverlight can do in BETA.

    Nuph said.

  • hubert17 November 7, 2007, 4:25 am

    The best video/audio codec h.264 and aac in today's age will be supported by Flash. Adobe aquires its license from MainConcept in Europe. WMV and WMA are poor codecs. Sorry!

  • James Mallorie October 20, 2008, 5:47 am

    I took the angle from usability and restrictions of display, which in essance IS Flash vs silverlight because they ARE the medium of distribution.

    I have just finnished writing a paper titled “Flash Vs Silverlight: A usability evaluation” It is available here:


    This project explores specific usability issues relating to the Adobe Flash® Player and the Microsoft® Silverlight™ Player in the adoption of Rich Internet Applications. A critical usability research study was undertaken to formulate an evaluation framework. The findings of which, formed the basis of several structured experiments. The Adobe Flash Player and the Microsoft Silverlight Player were systematically tested against the framework, resulting in a thorough and comparative evaluation of current and future usability issues.

    Let me know what you think, what would you have done differently?

  • Terence Tsang December 23, 2008, 6:32 am

    You may be intested in my blog that compares Silverlight and Flash with various examples as well.

    Here it is: http://www.shinedraw.com

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