Why you should not use Microsoft Silverlight for your next web application

You are running a Silverlight 4 application. You may experience incompatibilities as Moonlight does not have full support for this runtime yet.
The above warning message sums up everything I dislike about proprietary web technologies. Silverlight is a fairly new Microsoft technology from 2007 and Moonlight is its Open Source and not up-to-date equivalent that I have to use because Microsoft does not provide Silverlight for Linux. Since most software only run on Windows anyway why is this so upsetting? Well, everything is different on the web.

First, the premise for Rich Internet Applications (RIA) like Silverlight, Flash and even Java is ok: A website usually does not provide much “action” in itself so having an extra plugin running on the website with some access to the underlying system resources as well as built-in extra functionality will provide a better user experience. Microsoft writes on the Silverlight website:

Silverlight is a powerful development platform for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for Web, desktop, and mobile applications when online or offline

That sounds good and I do not necessarily disagree with the premise for RIAs but the question is: Why did we need another RIA platform that doesn’t really work? I don’t exactly know. However, it is understandable from Microsoft’s viewpoint, given their history of locking-in people to their platforms and the fact that they have legions of .NET developers that are probably very comfortable staying in their own environment when writing web applications. For them, Silverlight is probably bliss.

But there are some problems, one of them being its availability. As of this writing, Silverlight is only supported in roughly 61% of all browsers, according to statowl, or roughly 69%, according to riastats. As the above warning message suggests, it does not work perfectly on (my version of) Linux, even with the newest Chrome browser and Ubuntu 11.04, the arguably best supported Linux version out there. Indeed, most of the Silverlight applications that I have looked at did not work very well, including an app that I was offered to work on1 and popular services such as Netflix which currently does not work with Moonlight.

Again, the question arises: Why is this so bad? Isn’t this the same as always? No, it is a problem because the beauty of the web is its openness, and this openness is what Microsoft is challenging. The same applies to Flash. You may call Apple snobbish and manipulative if you like but Steve Jobs does have a point regarding Flash as a platform:

Most Flash websites will need to be rewritten to support touch-based devices. If developers need to rewrite their Flash websites, why not use modern technologies like HTML5, CSS and JavaScript? … New open standards created in the mobile era, such as HTML5, will win on mobile devices (and PCs too). Perhaps Adobe should focus more on creating great HTML5 tools for the future …

In my opinion, this would apply to Silverlight also. To be fair, Microsoft is embracing standards like html5 in Internet Explorer 9 but at the same time, they continue to push Silverlight forward. Some people think that this is not a problem since html5 and Silverlight are not direct competitors. But because of Microsoft’s power, Silverlight applications are shooting up everywhere which cuts off some users from using certain services of the Internet, something we have not seen on the same level with Flash. And this is a troubling development.

There is only one way of avoiding that Silverlight will dominate the next decade of web applications as Flash did in the past: Stop developing applications for it. My choice should now be clear. But I fear that I am almost alone.


  1. I politely declined the offer with the explanation that I was busy at the moment but actually, there was also idealogical reasons for not working on the app which should be apparent from this post.


  1. I agree on not using silverlight or flash but your point about Times vs Georgia (other article) is odd. I should use that stupid Times font because of Georgia’s poor rendering in Ubuntu, which hardly has any marketshare. Get real. I use OSX because it has hands down the best fontrendering. Ubuntu should offer and render a Georgia look alike whenever Georgia is detected

  2. Hi Blender,
    I just noticed that I now seem to have the Georgia font, either through a Chrome or Ubuntu update. Who knows. I’ve updated the post.

    I agree that Ubuntu should offer a version of many fonts which it also does. I will never know why Chrome didn’t correctly display the Georgia font. But since Ubuntu+Chrome is how I surf the web, I naturally went for a font that showed correctly on my website with this combination.

    And by the way, I happen to like Times New Roman :-)

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