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Silverlight and HTML5: Can they Co-exist?

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In between cook-outs and last trips to the beach, the online video industry was buzzing this weekend about a post on the Silverlight Team Blog. Brad Becker, the director or product management for developer platforms, wrote a long piece called "The Future of Silverlight," taking aim at HTML5's video shortcomings.

"[The post] makes the point that Silverlight is not in competition with HTML5 or open standards, but really is a place where we can create an application platform quickly that does a lot of stuff that's beyond the scope of Web standards in general and HTML5 in particular," says Ben Waggoner, Microsoft's principal video strategist for Silverlight, addressing Becker's entry.

The post seems written from a defensive position, addressing those who think that HTML5's video tag will make Flash and Silverlight unnecessary. It builds the case that Silverlight is more feature-forward than HTML5 and more open to innovation.

"There's a lot of value in creating an application platform that is not by huge committee, but where you can rapidly innovate and bring in a lot of different technologies. We're seeing that with Silverlight," says Waggoner.

If anyone needed convincing, the post makes a long list of abilities that Silverlight has and that HTML5 video lacks. For his part, Waggoner thinks HTML5 has been overhyped.

"There's been a lot of talk about HTML5 and how that's going to impact rich apps, particularly the media space with the video element. People who haven't heavily dived into what it's like to create a rich media experience can really overstate what HTML5 and the video tag can do," says Waggoner. "One thing the blog post makes a case for is that we're already doing stuff far, far ahead of anything envisioned for HTML5."

The damning-with-faint-praise conclusion is that HTML5 is fine for minor—extremely minor—needs, but it's isn't nearly ready for premium content.

"If you're Wikipedia, you're doing rights-cleared content, you want to do a rectangle of video embedded in a Web page that isn't very long and isn't very big,  that's going to be a fine use of the HTML5 video tag," says Waggoner. "But if you want to do stuff like we saw in the Winter Olympics where we had up to high-definition video, automatic bit-rate switching on-the-fly, DVR functionality, instant replay, integrated score data-really the premium experience-HTML5 doesn't really give that kind of functionality. It's not going to, as currently drafted."

Many people already seem attuned to the post's message, thinks Waggoner, especially those who have looked closely at what HTML5 offers.

"Most video professionals I talk to who have looked at HTML5 at all say it's good at what it was designed for, which is to embed small short videos in a Web page, but it's not good at providing the rich media experiences we see done in Silverlight or Flash," he says.

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