Dealing another significant blow to the Microsoft Silverlight web development platform, the New York Times is abandoning Silverlight and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). Rob Larson from the New York Times writes:
Next week we’ll be introducing Times Reader 2.0. This version is powered by Adobe AIR and will run equally well on Windows, Mac and Linux computers. With this latest release, Times Reader resembles the printed paper even more closely, and it updates every five minutes with the latest news from the Web.
The timing is awkward to say the least, with Microsoft actively promoting its New York Times Silverlight Kit. This toolkit enables developers to use the Times’ APIs with little or no coding, instead using mostly XAML.
The Times is dropping Silverlight for many of the same reasons that Major League Baseball benched Silverlight in April: compatibility and glitches. Though Microsoft still enjoys a near-monopoly on the PC desktop, it doesn’t enjoy the same ubiquity in the browser. Hence, Apple users complained about missing features that were available to Windows users and compatibility problems with Safari 4. Developers also complained that Silverlight had too many limitations compared to WPF and often ended up having to maintain two separate code bases.
Silverlight also produces blurry text for small print, a major issue for a newspaper. Though the problem has been known since 2006, Microsoft has done little to fix it:
It is clear that our text rendering is not clear enough in many scenarios. Unfortunately, the other design considerations make solving this problem very difficult. We are investigating our options, but we have not found any good solution yet.
The lesson here for Microsoft is that it can no longer rely on its monopoly for customers to forgive its cross-platform limitations and buggy software. With strong competition from Adobe AIR, Google Gears, and other open source solutions, Microsoft must learn to play nice in a multi-platform world that demands better quality and faster resolution of known problems.
Article published on May 14, 2009
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