Monday, December 22, 2008

Is Microsoft Silverlight a threat to Flex?

Sliverlight 2.0, the latest presentation technology offering from Microsoft is quickly emerging as a viable platform for creating high quality Rich Interactive Applications (RIAs). The pressure is definitely being felt by Adobe Flex, who until recently occupied the numero uno position. The developer community, including RIA developers are always on the look out for options that can substantially enhance the productivity and quality of their applications. So, the competition is going to be fierce.

On the one hand we have Flex, an established, tried and tested technology. It is viewable in nearly 85 % browsers and is strongly supported by the RIA development community that sustains applications development in large, medium and small business /start up market.

On the other hand is Sliverlight which is still in the infancy stage and is getting fine tuned for big times. It's framework is robust and scalable, and supports multiple languages - both static and dynamic; So, the flexibility is immense. The only draw back is that it has little experience of building products targeted at RIA designers and developers.

It promises to be an interesting contest. Developers are obviously excited because the competition will drive both the platforms to outdo the other in offering features and capabilities.

While we await the RIA platform war to heat up, the Evangelists from respective platforms are doing their bit to get the word out about relative strengths of their products. A very informative discussion on this topic can be found here, with interesting contributions from Ted Patrick of Adobe Systems and Scott Barnes of Microsoft.

Ted, quite rightly, has brought out the fact that Flex is not just ‘the older product’; but that ‘they have seen a nice ecosystem form and many open source components are being created for the toolset’. Such self sustaining eco-systems with access to open source components are hard to replace with a new product boasting longer feature list.

Scott, on the other hand has brought out another vital fact – platform wars are not won purely by having products with longer, stronger feature lists. For developers, it has to be about the ‘the shift in development direction going forward’.

From a maturity and field exposure point of view, the differences in the two platforms are so big that a comparison at this point is a bit premature.


I predict that Silverlight will do well and will grab a sizable share in the next two to three years, but Flex will continue to be the industry leader in the long run. A positive news is that competition will force both products to be more innovative. Both products will aggressively address their weaknesses and combat any new features that their competitor offers. It is a heartening news for vendors, companies, and consumers. Huge advancements are expected in features and functionality of both products in the next couple of years. We should also expect to see improvements in speed, security, ease of use as both Flex and Silverlight battle for the RIA throne.

To say that Silverlight will become a Flash killer overnight is a bit premature. Flash players are (according to Adobe’s figures) installed on 97% of desktop computers and well on the way to be a leading platform for mobile devices as well. It is highly unlikely that Silverlight will reach that level in the next twelve to fourteen months.