Silverlight, Moonlight, and History

Microsoft and Novell have announced a collaboration around Moonlight, an open-source implementation of Silverlight.

In my opinion, the major Linux distributions, Linux users, and most importantly webmasters, would be wise to simply ignore this.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, here's how it works:

  1. Microsoft sees a market they'd like to own, for strategic reasons. It doesn't make them any money, but if it takes hold, it reduces dependence on Microsoft software on the desktop.
  2. Microsoft creates their own alternative.
  3. Microsoft releases this alternative for other platforms, and tells the world to trust them, because their stuff is cross platform.
  4. Microsoft's new technology takes hold.
  5. It is now no longer strategically beneficial to support other platforms. Support for other platforms is reduced.
  6. Users on those other platforms, now dependent on this new technology (in this case because major websites have decided to use it, because hey it's cross-platform), must move to a platform Microsoft supports.

This is what they tried with IE on Solaris, and I don't see things being any different this time around. Ask yourself, what good does it do Microsoft to support Linux with Silverlight? Short term, it helps Silverlight gain a foothold, but long term, it's a detriment to them, not an advantage.

Moonlight requires binary codecs that Microsoft will supply. Once Microsoft decides to stop investing in the advancement of those codecs, Moonlight users will be left without support for the latest technology. The fact that Microsoft stopped investing in Internet Explorer once they gained leadership even on Windows, and only started again once Firefox was a thread, is clear evidence, they're not going to keep investing where they don't need to.

(The difference between Flash and Silverlight here is that Flash isn't funded by sales of the underlying operating system, so which OS is used doesn't matter to Adobe where it does to Microsoft).

One way Microsoft could help out here would be to also appoint a third party source for the codecs that Moonlight depends on, to take Microsoft right out of the picture. Oh, and promise that any patents involved are in the public domain.