Wednesday, December 17, 2008

RIAs and the Future of the Open Web

In The Struggle for the Soul of the Web Chris Keene writes:

Just because the web has been open so far doesn't mean that it will stay that way. Flash and Silverlight, arguably the two market-leading technology toolkits for rich media applications are not open. Make no mistake - Microsoft and Adobe aim to have their proprietary plug-ins, aka pseudo-browsers, become the rendering engines for the next generation of the Web.


The worse the underlying browser is at rendering rich widgets and media, the more developers and users will want your plug-in. If you are both the vendor of a browser (say IE) as well as the proponent of a plug-in (say Silverlight), then the incentives get truly twisted.

I believe this is why Microsoft (MS) has hijacked JavaScript 2.0 (I can't figure out why Yahoo didn't support it) and is hijacking HTML 5. These standards would enable other companies to more easily develop rich widgets and media frameworks that would compete directly with Siliverlight. From MS's point of view, that is unacceptable. Although both Adobe and MS have "pseudo-browsers", MS is a much bigger threat to an open and standard internet because they also create one of the worlds leading browsers, Internet Explorer (IE) --- the potential for proprietary lock-in here is huge.

Consider what happens with increasing adoption of Silverlight. First, Silverlight no longer works so well in non-IE browsers, then a year or two later it's only supported by the top two browsers, and once a critical mass is achieved, it only works in IE. I can see the website banners now: "viewable only using IE and Silverlight". What browser do you think most people will be forced to use? And since IE is tied to Windows, websites will essentially become Windows OS dependent. Moreover, developers will be forced to use the .NET framework for Silverlight, that leads to developers having to use MS development tools on a MS OS... where does it end? Why would MS even care about or need open web standards once all users are locked into using IE+Silverlight+Windows?

I think Silverlight --- the VM and its development tools --- is a great solution for RIAs. However, I'm a strong supporter of open standards that benefit all of our industry. As such, I will avoid, as much as possible, Silverlight for fear I may contribute to the demise of our open web.


[1] Chris Keene, The Struggle for the Soul of the Web, AjaxWorld,, Dec, 2008.