Microsoft is a changing beast and those changes look, on the whole, to be for the best. They are of course still up to their usual tricks, such as their attempts to rig the vote in Sweden for example on their OOXML documentation standard, for which they are seeking ISO approval. However they appear to have realised recently that working with, rather than against, the open source community sometimes makes business sense. A case in point is Silverlight.
Microsoft claim that Silverlight will be cross platform. The problem until recently is that they were only supporting a some browsers on the Windows and OS X operating systems. That of course leaves two gaping holes: other Windows and OS X browsers and Linux (there is a third gaping hole: WinCE, but presumably Microsoft will tackle that at some point). Not so long ago, one might expect Microsoft to go into denial over Linux and to claim that IE on Windows was cross-platform enough for 99% of the people, so tough luck to the other 1%. They couldn’t do that this time around though as they are trying to take on Flash, which is pretty much truly cross-platform already. So perhaps it is not so much of a surprise that they intend to make Silverlight available on Linux.
What is surprising is the chosen method. Rather than port Silverlight to a binary release for Linux on x86 machines only, they have taken the genuine open source route: they are backing Moonlight! Moonlight is part of the Mono project, which is attempting to create an open source, multi-operating system version of .NET.
Can Silverlight really be a Flash killer? That I do not know, but with the news that Microsoft are going to assist – via Novell – the development of the Silverlight .NET environment for Linux, Silverlight starts to look a very interesting product. And let’s face it, Adobe aren’t exactly a small lilly-white company about to be threatened by a giant (anyone remember the Dmitry Sklyarov saga?) So I at least will not shed any tears if Silverlight does kill off Flash. I predict a more likely outcome though (at least for the short term) is that competition will spur both projects on giving us both a better Flash and a better Silverlight product over coming years. Now that can’t be bad, so well done Microsoft.