In Flash-HTML5 Battle, Silverlight Is the Big Loser

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With the introduction of the iPad, a lot has been made about the future of HTML5 — and just as much ink has been spilled on whether or not its adoption means that Adobe’s Flash is dead. But what about that other rich Internet application platform — you know, the one that was built and (until recently) backed by Microsoft?

While Apple and Adobe bicker over whether HTML5 or Flash is the best platform for delivery of video, games and other interactive applications, Silverlight gets nary a mention — even from its own team. And Microsoft itself has increasingly moved to HTML5 for new interactive applications in its products.

Earlier this week, Microsoft showed off the latest version of Internet Explorer 9 — and its use of HTML5 and web standards for interactive applications was a big part of the story. In fact, Microsoft will be leveraging HTML5 for the latest version of its Bing search engine, and using the new web standard for interactive, moving backgrounds.

It’s not just in its browser and search properties that Microsoft is opening up to HTML5; Microsoft also conceded to making the web standard available for video delivered to its Xbox 360 gaming console, in an effort to ease the trouble content companies had in bringing live streaming to the platform. Microsoft previously required content providers to use its proprietary Smooth Streaming technology for video delivery, but now will allow ESPN3 and others to stream using HTML5.

Eighteen months ago, Silverlight seemed like a viable alternative to Flash for video delivery, interactive pages and enterprise applications. In fact, Microsoft was way ahead of Adobe by adding many video-related features to its plugin — like support for H.264, HTTP and adaptive bit rate streaming, all of which were introduced to Flash 12-18 months after they were available through Silverlight.

But things got all wonky with the introduction of the iPad and Steve Jobs’ insistence that the tablet support video and interactive applications through web standards like HTML5 rather than through plugins like Flash or Silverlight. Now the choice for developers is not necessarily between Flash and Silverlight but between Flash and HTML5.

Microsoft says it is still developing the Silverlight technology, and Silverlight will be a key part of delivering interactive apps on Windows Phone 7 mobile devices. But outside of its mobile platform — which, let’s face it, can’t compete with Apple iOS or Android devices — Microsoft seems to be abandoning Silverlight in lieu of HTML5.

For Microsoft the embrace of open standards may be surprising, especially in light of its history in pushing proprietary technology instead. But in doing so, it’s leaving Silverlight in the dust.

Related content on GigaOM Pro: HTML5’s a Game-Changer for Web Apps (subscription required)

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