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Silverlight: A Good Thing, Served Badly

If you've been reading Redmond Developer News, you know that the Beijing Summer Olympic Games currently underway in China may be of particular interest to .NET application developers. You see, Microsoft decided to use the games as a platform to showcase its Silverlight rich Internet application platform.

Go to and you'll land at a rather busy-looking portal page with links to all sorts of Olympics-related news, video and schedules. Silverlight's role in all this is as the delivery platform for streaming video of events. For followers of less-than-marquee sports (I'm talking to you, badminton fans), the site is a huge benefit.

The problem is in the execution. First of all, the interface is terribly complex and convoluted for something intended for a broad consumer audience. Just making sense of where to find the video can be a bit tough. There's a "Video" link along the top, but it's unclear if that's where all the latest and greatest video event coverage is. Navigate by sport, and you're presented with no clear Video section.

Second, there's the issue of the player itself, which launches in a second browser window. The Standard Player offers a smaller window and a busy array of tabs, links and ads for navigating content. Click the Enhanced Player icon to achieve higher resolution, and you get a more soothing interface and larger video window. But I was disappointed that the Video window itself couldn't scale. YouTube offers a full-screen mode -- why can't Microsoft and NBC?

Finally, the enforced delay on streaming televised events is...well, it's maddening. It's hard enough to know whether events taking place halfway around the world are actually broadcast live or on tape delay. Now we have to guess at when the online video of an event that may or may not have taken place will arrive?

My experience with the Silverlight streaming video, overall, has been good. There's been just a few, brief pauses in the stream. The resolution is good enough for desktop viewing. And I definitely appreciate that this channel delivers so much action that would otherwise never see the light of broadcast day on NBC or even its sundry satellite channels (MSNBC, CNBC).

But Microsoft should be less than satisfied with the way the video experience itself has been packaged. Redmond, of all companies, knows that it's not technology that wins markets -- otherwise, Windows would never have ousted IBM OS/2 as a desktop operating system.

Have you had a strong development effort undone by bad marketing or packaging? Tell me your tale at [email protected].

Posted by Michael Desmond on 08/14/2008

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