Here's the way things work at Microsoft: After correcting shortcomings in the first and second editions of its software, version 3.0 of a Microsoft product usually silences the company's worst critics, allowing management to get on with business of crushing rivals. But I'll be first to acknowledge that Silverlight breaks with that pattern.
Since the start of the Beijing Olympics, I've been using the Silverlight 2 beta to access video over the Internet and it works just fine. As a loyal Flash user, I was surprised when Microsoft won the deal to supply NBC with video-viewing technology for the Olympics. There was the obvious old-school tie between Microsoft and NBC dating back to their collaboration building MSNBC. Still, this was Adobe Systems' game to lose. And lose it did--big time.
In the end, Microsoft was able to convince NBC it could do more by using Silverlight than by sticking with Flash. Rob Bennett, the general manager of sports for MSN, told me that it came down to a two-day meeting in November, where he brought in the Siliverlight team. I'm simplifying, but his pitch was that Flash's scalability had never been put to an Olympic-size test. Accurate or not, that argument left the desired impression. What's more, even though Silverlight was new on the surface, Microsoft argued that under covers, it was really based on very familiar Windows Media technologies.
"We talked about features like adaptive streaming, the ability to automatically keep checking how much bandwidth you have and deliver the appropriate quality stream and how to be smart about knowing what's coming up in the stream," Bennett said. He added that Microsoft made a point of playing up the scalability of the Windows Media format as well as the ways in which Silverlight could help NBC with copy protection of its video streams.
So where was Adobe in all this? Good question. After leaving several phone messages, I got the hint: the PR team at Adobe has decided to go into bunker mode for the duration of the games. But not to get too down in the dumps, fellas. A second-place finish to Microsoft hardly rings the death knell for Flash. Far from it. In fact, Adobe Flash is being used to power CCTV's streaming of the games in China.
However, NBC's Olympics deal is a terrific boon for Silverlight. Microsoft is not disclosing specifics on the number of Silverlight downloads--except to say that it registers up to 1.5 million downloads a day. For the record, that's the same thing Microsoft has been saying since April.) However, a spokeswoman said that "in the last several days, more than 50 percent of the visitors to NBCOlympics.com on MSN already have Silverlight 2 installed."
NBC was more forthcoming. The network says that almost 25 million unique users have visited NBCOlympics.com on MSN during the games and so far viewed 456 million pages and watched nearly 22 million video streams.
Adobe's next move? John Dvorak had a delightfully curmudgeonly idea, suggesting that Adobe might well try to get back at Microsoft by releasing its Creative Suite for Linux. As they used to say in Mad magazine, file that one under "Scenes We'd Like to See."