Friday, February 26, 2010

Tarnished Silverlight

Well, I tried to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. While writing my story on the keynote address by MS's August de los Toros for today's WhatTheyThink, I had wanted to include a link to a very cool video that Microsoft Surface had put together showcasing all the futuristicky things they were working on in the area of ubiquitous interactive touchscreen and flexible displays. No dice. It wasn't that I couldn't find the video--I couldn't even get onto the Surface site.

I am on a Mac, naturally, and use Safari as my default browser. When I went to the main Surface site, I was told I needed to install Silverlight (Microsoft's Flash-like animation and video environment)--to basically see anything. Since installing software is always tons of fun, and when I'm on deadline is one thing I adore getting sidetracked with, I thought, "Sure, why not?" Since I was on the GoA pressroom WiFi, it was a tad slow, so it took about 15 minutes to download. Fortunately, I needed to take a restroom break and socialize a bit, so I let it do its thing.

I came back, it was done, and I again tried to launch the Surface site. This time I got the Silverlight logo that spun a bit and eventually stalled without doing anything. Great.

So then I tried Firefox, my other default browser when a site doesn't like Safari. This time, I got the spinning Silverlight logo again, as well as a countdown, which stopped at 30 and went no further. Great.

Okay, Plan C. I actually have Internet Explorer on my Mac. It has been years since Microsoft had a version of IE for the Mac, but I have carefully preserved this one in a hermetically-sealed folder on my hard drive on those rare occasions when a site I need to access won't work with anything else. (For example, I once did a lot of writing for a publishing company that configured their independent contractors' online billing site to only work with IE--which they only did after MS discontinued IE for the Mac and probably knowing full well that 90% of their contributors are on a Mac and won't be able to use IE. It wouldn't surprise me if that was their not-so-subtle way of preventing their freelancers from billing them.)

Anyway, IE crashed within seconds of accessing Surface. Great.

Strike 3.

So, I really wanted to link to that video, but never got that far. It does make me wonder what the future depicted in that video would look like if Microsoft actually were the ones to develop all these products. I had to be nice in my WTT article, but all I could think was, if it all ends up anything like Office or Windows, I'm going to want to take one of those glass displays, smash it, and slit my wrists with the shards. A fatal error has occurred, indeed.

There was one brief debate in one of the sessions I attended yesterday where the topic of whether Flash or some other online video/animation environment would prevail, and I don't really care either way--as long as it's something that works fairly transparently and consistently. I have never had a problem getting Flash to function, and I'm sure if I looked, I would find that there are even better solutions out there. But to be the one that prevails, it's going to have to be the one that is most easly available, is most stable and functional, and causes the least amount of grief to use. That's a tall order for any software company, but the reward is the conquering of the universe.

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