Microsoft is to take on an established player whose product dominates the market. It's tried it before with the Zune player, which failed to kill off the iPod. But its Internet Explorer web browser sent Netscape Navigator packing. It's latest product, Silverlight, is an attempt to topple Macromedia's Flash product in delivering interactive media via a web browser.
For many people, a standard text and image-based website isn't enough - they want their website to be flashy. Macromedia, now Adobe, filled the void with Flash, which enables web developers to include interactive media in their websites, including graphics, video and audio. Occasionally you will be asked to download the latest Flash player to view a website. It's relatively painless until you try to use a website where the developer has gone Flash-mad.
Jakob Nielsen, the web-usability guru, claims that "99 per cent of the time, the presence of Flash on a website constitutes a usability disease". Flash isn't inherently bad, but its implementation, Nielsen argues, usually is.
Of course, rich media content in charity and business websites is useful for things such as presentations and video clips, and until now Flash was the default tool. Will Microsoft's Silverlight knock Flash from its perch? It is being criticised for ignoring certain industry standards, and the web design community has never shown much affection for the world's largest software company. But the fact that it is closely integrated into the.NET platform, which is a software component that can be added to Microsoft Windows, and that its content is more searchable than Flash content, will give Silverlight useful advantages, at least in the short term. A Silverlight showcase site, a search engine at www.tafiti.com, may help you decide.
- Robin Fisk is managing director of software company Fisk Brett.