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


  1. Nicely done. I have 2.5 years invested in SL, and I can say that the ride has been both a productive and joyous one.

    It's too bad so many folks are getting caught up in the drama. Let's face it, HTML 5 is nowhere near production ready (short of developing your own frameworks and providing alot of MUCH needed plumbing).

    People ought to embrace tools that are at their disposal today, imo, and SL is one of those technologies. Fortunately for me, I've been delivering businss apps, so my audience isn't as far reaching as say an e-commerce site would be.

    I think it's important for people to realize that HTML 5 is not a silver bullet; there's no such thing. You pick the right tool for the right solution. And if you chose a plugin technology to serve the masses, well...

    And to think that MS is going to kill Silverlight (or .NET) in favor of a new windows platform powered by HTML 5 is ludicrous. Does anyone remember VB6? That had a pretty good run, about 10 years.

    And ask yourself this; If MS was STILL supporting VB6, would you still be on that bandwagon?

    Of course you wouldn't, not with the .NET Framework, ASP.NET (&MVC), SL, WPF, WCF, WF, etc. that basically wiped it from the map.

    Technologies change even quicker these days. Learn to embrace them. Love them. Or ask yourselves, "is this the right career path for me"?

    I'm glad I've had my hand with SL (and WPF), and will enjoy every last minute of it until the ride is over and something newer is introduced that is more compelling and makes me more productive.

    I love SL and so do my customers :)

    Sorry for the rant, I'm just tired of the drama, and this seemed a logical place to etch out my thoughts :)

    - Aaron

  2. So... will SL run performant enough in Win8 running on a limiting arm hardware, the current implementation would obviously not do.

  3. I wish Microsoft Opensources Silverlight and let it our in wild so that there will be more versions of it in future. If they want to kill it why make Silverlight 5

  4. The facts considered as they have emerged over the past three years provide all the evidence necessary to conclude these matters are the equivalent of Betamax (Microsoft) vs VHS (The rest of the world.)

    And I remember how that one turned out.

  5. Nice article...

    Can't imagine anyone who is sane and who would base his company or his business on technology whose definition changed what 6-7 times in three years...

    -- s.

  6. Here's what it boils down to for me: I really don't want to be a javascript programmer. I hope that I have a decent choice. Though I don't expect to ever get away from the world of HTML, I was hoping that Silverlight would provide a way for me to not wallow most days in the mess that is HTML/Javascript.