Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight Vie for Dominance Amid HTML5 Threat


Microsoft’s Director of Developer Platform Marketing, Brian Goldfarb, and Adobe’s Director of Technology Strategy, Anup Murarka, recently participated in an interview together about their competing rich web formats and what the future holds. Currently, Microsoft’s Silverlight and Adobe’s Flash both are well entrenched, with a legion of developers sitting on each side of the fence.  However, Microsoft and Adobe are both warily eyeing HTML5, an open standard that could unravel support for their proprietary platforms.  

  In terms of PC user base, Microsoft’s latest figures show it to have 45 percent market penetration for Silverlight worldwide and 60 percent in Europe and Asia.  Meanwhile Adobe, benefiting from 10-plus years on the market, is in 98 percent of computers worldwide.  Reportedly, it was able to bump 95 percent of users worldwide to Flash 10 within a year of its release.

Adobe has a large developer base, but it isn’t releasing exact figures.  Microsoft openly claims a developer base of 500,000 developers.  Its recent high profile content victories have included using Silverlight for coverage of the Winter Olympics, the upcoming March Madness (college basketball’s annual championship tournament), Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, and the Netflix Watch Instantly service.  Adobe, meanwhile, continues to control the rich content backend for some of the web’s biggest sites like YouTube and Hulu.

Microsoft is trying to make development easier for artistic types with its Expression creative development environment.  Microsoft enjoys the advantage that its .NET environment is familiar to many developers, but its lack of availability on Macs turns off some artistic types.  Adobe’s tools for making Flash applications (Flex, Flash Builder, and enterprise applications using Eclipse) are less standard, but its new Catalyst product allows Mac developers and artists to get in on the action.

Ultimately, both Microsoft and Adobe were left scrambling by the introduction of HTML5, championed, among others, by Google.  HTML5 could scrap the need for proprietary standards entirely, but both Adobe and Microsoft are looking to sneak their rich media into certain HTML5 implementations.  They are also working to make their content more searchable, a key advantage that HTML5 currently enjoys.
The pair also have to worry about scrapping in the mobile sector, a key emerging market.  Microsoft’s Silverlight will be a key part of Windows Mobile 7.  Meanwhile, Adobe has inserted Flash into 19 of the 20 mobile phone OEMs.  The only OEM still left out of the party is Apple, who makes the very popular iPhone.  Apple has refused to let interpreted code (Java, PHP, PERL, etc) run on the iPhone, barring the possibility of Flash.  Apple has also gone as far as to personally attack the reliability and necessity for Flash.

A key third player is Sun’s JavaFX, which was first released in December 2008 and since has been drawing substantial interest in the developer community.