What is Microsoft Silverlight?

Every computer needs a way to run “rich” content. In the past, we’ve had things like Adobe and Javascript, and for the most part, they’ve got the job done. So why change from those to Microsoft Silverlight? 

It’s an ambitious initiative from Microsoft to try and provide an all-in-one solution to everything you need to do on the internet. To us, it sounds like they’re trying to push something that shouldn’t be. Either way, you need to understand what it is so you can choose for yourself.

What is Silverlight, exactly?

Silverlight is depreciated technology. It’s a product of Microsoft’s ambitious push to create a unified media experience across PCs, tablets, and mobile devices.

Launched in 2007, Silverlight is an application framework designed to run “rich” internet applications. Think of it as an alternative to Adobe Flash, which crams static and interactive media into “containers” that requires a “player” (plugin) to run.

Like Flash, Silverlight is an all-purpose plugin for streaming videos, livestreams, animations, and vibrant graphics to devices. However, it relies heavily on Microsoft’s XAML — a text-based markup language — for the user interface, animations, and vector graphics. It’s also based on Microsoft’s .NET Framework, allowing developers to use any tool that supports the .NET language.

Ultimately, Silverlight gives web developers a way to enable rich animations using Windows-based formats rather than Flash. It supports Windows Media Video (WMV), Windows Media Audio (WMA), H.264 video, Advanced Audio Coding, and MPG3. It doesn’t require the traditional Windows-based players.

What led to Silverlight’s demise?

Silverlight Logo

Silverlight’s demise stems from a combination of factors. Overall, however, the software world simply moved on to a better, more secure content delivery method.

When Silverlight launched in 2007, it seemed to be a huge success. Microsoft pulled in several major partners, including NBC, which used Silverlight to stream the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Political conventions used Silverlight during the same year, followed by the 2010 Winter Olympics. Even Amazon Video and Netflix used Silverlight as their video-streaming backbone.

But if Microsoft had a hit on its hands, it was short-lived. Problems quickly surfaced, such as bugs existing for various applications. Unfortunately, these bugs were only one small facet of the overall problem.

In a 2011 blog written by former Silverlight producer manager Scott Barnes, Microsoft didn’t have a clear strategy — the company was 100% reactive and unable to understand what the market required. Even more, Microsoft pushed Silverlight 2 and Silverlight 3 long before anyone — including its management teams — was ready.

While the project struggled internally, developers found the tools — especially the vulnerable .NET Framework — challenging to learn and too risky. Sticking to the familiar Flash and JavaScript platforms was simply more comfortable than dealing with Silverlight.

Before long, HTML5 arrived, a very versatile framework with the promise of a great future online. Silverlight swiftly became obsolete even for those still using it. After announcing in 2013, Netflix switched over to HTML5 in 2015, given Silverlight’s eventual demise. Amazon Video switched over to HTML5 during the same year.

When will Microsoft end Silverlight support?

windows 10 october update

Microsoft officially ends support for Silverlight 5, the final version, on October 12, 2021. That means it won’t receive official quality improvements and security updates. The installer won’t be available after that date either.

Internet Explorer 11 for Windows 10 will be the last browser to support the platform, following Internet Explorer 10 on Windows 8 dropping Silverlight on January 31, 2020. Google Chrome discontinued support in version 45 (September 2015), while Mozilla waited until March 2017 to remove Silverlight in Firefox 52. Both Opera and Microsoft Edge never even supported the platform.

Silverlight disappeared on Android and iOS sometime around 2015. Meanwhile. It was the primary development environment for Microsoft’s Windows Phone, which was succeeded by Windows 10 Mobile and eventually discontinued in December 2019.

Of course, at this point, the 2021 death sentence is little more than a coup de grâce. Microsoft advised everyone to stop using Silverlight entirely in 2015, indicating that support for the software would eventually cease. By 2018, less than 0.1% of all websites used Silverlight.

Is Silverlight still available?

If you still want Silverlight — maybe you’re writing a study on failed browser software — you can download Silverlight 5 until the October 2021 deadline. You won’t get much out of the experience, however, considering its current state.  Silverlight hasn’t been worth using in years.

Outside of a purely technical exercise, there is no reason to get Silverlight. If you need an application framework for web development, use HTML5 instead. It offers a certain amount of future-proofing and handles current internet content.

Still, if you insist on installing Silverlight, do so in a safe environment without sensitive data, like a virtual machine. Active support and updates for the software stopped back in 2012, though bug fixes continue periodically. Even more, OS support for Silverlight is currently a hit or miss.

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