It is raining in Boston but I'll be indoors at the ReMIX 07 conference today and tomorrow which covers the Microsoft web technologies (e.g. Silverlight, Expression and Atlas). There are about 800 people registered and I'm still trying to finalize which sessions I'm going to be going to.
Brad Abrams (Group Program Manager for the UI Framework and Services team) who I have a lot of respect for gave the keynote and spoke about the balance between web and desktop applications, the offerings Microsoft have in both those spaces and the trend towards compelling media and rich internet applications (software and services together) using WPF and Silverlight using the same set of technologies (Visual Studio, .NET and Expression Studio). It was refreshing to see Brad doing the Siliverlight 1.0 streaming video technologies on a MacBook Pro with Safari and on Firefox on the PC. From my personal experience, Microsoft still have a ways to go with 1.1alpha performance on the Mac. Brad demo'd www.tafiti.com for a Silverlight 1.0 search engine interface and www.microsoft.com/silverlight/halo3.aspx for Halo 3.
Miguel de Icaza came up at the end and showed off Linux and Moonlight (which is Silverlight 1.0 and 1.1 running on Linux) to the delight of the crowd. He showed off not just being able to run Silverlight streaming and rich applications but also made changes (using Emacs of course) to the demo code and showed the recompiled (using Make of course) application and running the modified version. It was great to see both Brad and Miguel up there, I don't think I've ever seen any Microsoft event where so many platforms were being shown off under one technology umbrella.
What is left unsaid is that this is really only completely "new" in the Microsoft-centric world of course (can anyone say Adobe?) but no matter, it is still an important new direction for Microsoft. Unlike Microsoft of past, they have a cross-browser & multi-platform solution indicating possibly a final realization and proof of a real move away from the idea that IE and ActiveX was going to rule the web.
That said, they have a significant uphill battle ahead of them:
- Designers tend to use Mac's. Microsoft needs to produce solid Mac versions of their design tools in addition to the browser plugins. This alone breaks the concept Microsoft have of designers and developers working together using the same tools and universes. Until that happens the best I see is buying designers a copy of VMware Fusion (or Parallels) so they can use the designer software (and let's hope they've done a better job than the abhorrent SharePoint Designer)
- Adobe has many years head-start partly because Microsoft even shipped the flash plugin with their browser. Unless Microsoft pushes this out (e.g. as a Windows Update) the industry is going to be reticent to expend energy developing Siliverlight web solutions until there is a a critical mass (the same reason we still see people ignoring Opera and other non-mainstream browsers)
However, it is worth remembering when Microsoft introduced .NET and C# when Sun Java was the only player in town. It took time (and a few revisions) but it would not surprise me to see a repeat of history only with Adobe playing the role of Sun.
In the corporate world that is my focus, I believe Silverlight and SharePoint make an excellent combination for providing rich media and webparts/applications to business users and for building light but rich desktop client/server applications such as the ones Conchango has demo'd at ReMIX in Milan, Italy.