Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Microsoft's Silverlight Elevator Pitch

You have heard of an elevator pitch, right? It's that quick, 30-second pitch that starts with a hook, goes on to the how, what and why and closes with a strong call to action. It's the perfect way to quickly provide the value proposition for something you're trying to sell, condensed into an easy, fast solution that you can literally share while passing floors in an elevator.

Microsoft has been selling for decades, so I assume they have a little bit of experience crafting their pitches. It turns out that they've been pitching Silverlight to us for years. But how has the message changed, and what does it mean for Silverlight developers?

Let's take a quick look at the early days just before Silverlight got it's name. Back then you had to call it by the awkward "WPF/E" which seemed to imply that Windows Presentation Foundation would eventually be found on phones and hiding inside of Linux machines. According to Microsoft (see this link) the first pitch was:

December 2006

"WPF/E "(code name) provides designers and developers with a cross-platform solution for delivering richly interactive experiences for the Web and beyond. It is a key part of the next-generation Web platform from Microsoft, delivering visually stunning and interactive user experiences. It supports multiple operating systems (including Apple Macintosh OS X) and combines 2-D animation, video, and audio within a lightweight yet flexible browser plug-in (currently under 1 MB). The XML-based presentation (XAML) makes it easy to upgrade applications that are based on AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) to take advantage of "WPF/E." This breaks rich Web-based applications out of the proprietary "black box" in which they exist today, by using XML (XAML) for presentation and AJAX for logic.

Did they really say what was at the time an ActiveX plug-in would break applications out of being ... proprietary?

Then, Silverlight got a name ... and developers braced themselves for a wild ride.

June 2007 (all of the following quotes are archived from the Silverlight.Net site)

Microsoft® Silverlight™ is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web. Silverlight offers a flexible programming model that supports AJAX, VB, C#, Python, and Ruby, and integrates with existing Web applications. Silverlight supports fast, cost-effective delivery of high-quality video to all major browsers running on the Mac OS or Windows.

This is where I believe the confusion began. CIOs trying to discern what this new thing was felt their eyes glaze over at the mention of so many languages and instead latched onto the comfortable terms of "media" and "high-quality video," then told everyone else, "Oh, it's another Flash plugin for playing movies."

July 2008

Microsoft Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web. By using Expression Studio and Visual Studio, designers and developers can collaborate more effectively using the skills they have today to light up the Web of tomorrow.

Thank goodness it could now run on other devices, not just platforms and browsers. XAML made it ... but ... unmanaged C++ hooks anyone? While designer and developers were mentioned earlier on, here we get the first taste of the designer/developer workflow ... made possible by XAML and Expression.

November 2008

Microsoft Silverlight powers rich application experiences and delivers high quality, interactive video across the Web and mobile devices through the most powerful runtime available on the Web.

Uh-oh, we should have seen the writing on the wall. What happened to cross-platform and cross-browser? Now we're just on the web and mobile devices? And how many mobile devices? And dangit, they keep saying "video" in their pitch making it real hard for me to sell it to line of business.

June 2009

Microsoft Silverlight is a free runtime that powers rich application experiences and delivers high quality, interactive video across multiple platforms and browsers, using the .NET framework.

Hey everyone! Look ... it's free! It's free! Not quite open source, but definitely ... free! Unfortunately, the PHP developers saw "using the .NET Framework" and ran the other way. Everyone else still called it a video player.

August 2009

Silverlight helps you create rich web applications that run on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux. Welcome to a new level of engaging, rich, safe, secure, and scalable cross-platform experience.

Now we're not just cross-platform, we've got a list of platforms. We also ditched the video, so I can finally sell line of business applications. Not only are Silverlight applications safe, but they are secure. Did we mention scalable? Enterprise, get ready ... yeah, we're talking to you.

November 2009 - from the PDC Keynote, Ray Ozzie:

Our strategic runtimes for delivering experiences across all three screens — across three screens and a cloud — are Internet Explorer and Silverlight ... And because Silverlight IS .Net, it's also the premier high level runtime for the development of and the web based deployment of line of business apps that typically need data bound controls and workflow and more...

Ah, yes! The excitement! The glory! It's their strategy now, for all of the screens, it's premier, and it's for line of business applications! This is where I wish the pitch had stayed... — thanks to John Garland for pointing out this "missed pitch."

February 2010 (to present)

Silverlight is a powerful development platform for creating engaging, interactive user experiences for Web, desktop, and mobile applications when online or offline.

And here we are today. Painfully obvious that we're no longer chasing the "cross-platform" experience. However, the key here and the reason why I love Silverlight (and the reason why customers continue to invest in it) is the fact that it does provide engaging, interactive experiences ... and the key here is both online and offline (and while it's not in the pitch, it just so happens that those experiences run really well on both Windows and Mac OSX machines).

So there you have it ... the history of the Silverlight elevator pitch.

Jeremy Likness