Open Source Community Skeptical About Silverlight

Open source players suspect the cross-platform Silverlight is not as friendly as it seems.

Microsoft's glitzy MIX07 coming-out party for the Silverlight rich media browser plug-in clearly gained the attention of open source developers, but reaction was lukewarm at best.

As it girds for a Web platform showdown with market leader Adobe Systems Inc., Microsoft announced Silverlight support for Python and Ruby and said the enabling Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) will be open sourced under the Microsoft Permissive License (Ms-PL).

"Microsoft as a company has a long row to hoe when it comes to getting the benefit of the doubt from the open source community," says RedMonk analyst Michael Cote. "The Ms-PL and cross-platform approach with DLR is nice, though, in that it allows people to use the technology in fun and cool ways rather than getting caught up debating licensing issues."

Cote says developers he knows, many of whom are open source enthusiasts, have been testing Silverlight since Microsoft released the 1.0 beta and 1.1 alpha at MIX07 late last month. The latter version will allow .NET apps to run within the browser, including Firefox and Safari, Microsoft says.

But vocal open source advocate Con Zymaris, chief executive officer of the Australian consulting firm Cybersource Pty. Ltd., says developers thinking of building on Silverlight should be wary that Microsoft will yank the cross-platform support out from under them if it succeeds in vanquishing Adobe's Flash. There is precedent, he says, noting Redmond's decision to drop Internet Explorer support for Unix after it beat back browser competition from Netscape.

Microsoft made a point of demonstrating Silverlight apps running on Mac OS X at MIX07. But unlike Flash, the Microsoft plug-in won't support Windows rival Linux. Dan Kohn, a former Ruby developer and chief operating officer of the Linux Foundation, says Microsoft's Linux snub tells open source developers all they need to know.

"All Microsoft has done here is changed its tactics, but the goal remains clear -- to own the platform," Kohn says. "I see the open sourcing and dynamic language support as nice icing on what is underneath a pretty unattractive cake."

What's more, Kohn says, the tactical shift aimed at bringing down Flash could backfire by introducing .NET developers to dynamic languages within the Microsoft platform.

"Folks may say, 'This Ruby language works great. I'm so much more productive than with C or C#,'" Kohn says. "Once developers get the taste for dynamic languages, they may realize there's no need to develop solely on the Microsoft platform."

RedMonk's Cote agrees most programmers are open to any effective technology available within their development comfort zone, but he doesn't see much of a .NET exodus risk for Microsoft.

"If more open source languages like Ruby and Python are easy and efficient to use in the .NET CLR, thanks to the DLR, I'm sure developers will consider it," he says. "Jumping ship from the .NET world to something else is another issue, though."
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