What is Silverlight, exactly?
Microsoft’s Silverlight software is an example of ambitious browser-focused development — and a warning sign of just what can go wrong. If you encounter Silverlight these days, you may be wondering just what it is or if you need it for a particular project.
To help out, we’re going over what Silverlight is, what it does, and the history that led to its current state. Silverlight may no longer be an option for you or your web development, but it’s important to know why.
What is Silverlight, exactly?
Silverlight is an application framework created by Microsoft and designed for running rich media on the internet. Think of it as an alternative to Adobe Flash —that’s certainly how Microsoft developed and marketed the software when it was first released in the late 2000s.
Like Flash, Silverlight was intended to be an all-purpose plugin for running videos, live streams, animated, and rich graphics online. However, it did so with heavy reliance on Microsoft tools in the backend. Using the XAML coding format and Microsoft’s .NET Framework for development, Silverlight offered support for Windows Media Video (WMV) and Audio (WMA), H.264 video, Advanced Audio Coding, and more.
It gave people a way to enable rich animations online using Windows tools more than Flash tools, and a product of Microsoft’s ambitious push into new areas during the 2000s.
Wait, so is Silverlight still available?
Oh, sure. You can still download Silverlight 5 if you want. But you wouldn’t get much out of the experience, considering its current state. Support from Internet Explorer ended in 2016, and support from Microsoft’s newer Edge browser never existed. Chrome stopped supporting Silverlight back in 2015, and Firefox ended its support in 2017. Outside of a purely technical exercise, there’s not much reason to look at Silverlight at all.
Silverlight hasn’t been worth using in years. Back in 2015, Microsoft advised everyone to stop using Silverlight entirely, indicating that support for the software would eventually cease. Active support and updates for the software stopped back in 2012, although bug fixes continue periodically.
If you need an application framework for web development, we suggest you use HTML5, which comes with a certain amount of future-proofing and can deal with modern internet content.
How much longer is Silverlight going to be supported?
The final version of Silverlight will be supported by Microsoft until late 2021, after which it will be permanently shut down. Of course, at this point that deadline is little more than a coup de gras. By 2018, less than 0.1% of all websites used Silverlight. As we mentioned previously, none of the major browsers, including Edge, support it anymore. Microsoft has been encouraging people to stop using Silverlight for several years now.
However, if you still want to try out Silverlight — maybe you’re writing a study on failed browser software — it will still be available for download for a couple more years. However, we suggest downloading in a safe environment without sensitive data, as OS support for Silverlight is hit or miss these days.
What led to the demise of Silverlight?
A combination of factors, but essentially, the software world moved too fast for Silverlight to catch up.
When Silverlight was first released in 2007, it looked like a success. Microsoft was able to bring some major partners on board, and the 2008 coverage of the Beijing Olympics was streamed online using Silverlight (via NBC) — as were the 2008 political conventions, and then the 2010 Winter Olympics. Even Amazon and Netflix were using Silverlight to streaming their video content.
But if Microsoft had a hit on its hands, it was a short-lived one. Problems quickly began to surface with Silverlight. Bugs existed for various applications, but bugs were only one facet of the problem. One of the worst issues, as recounted by Scott Barnes, was Microsoft’s inability to understand what the market required. Developers found the tools, especially the vulnerable .NET Framework, difficult to learn and too risky to depend on. Additionally, Microsoft began pushing Silverlight 2 and Silverlight 3 long before anyone — including its management teams — was ready for it.