What Is Silverlight And Do I Need It?

Category: Software , Windows

Whenever I go to Microsoft's website, it nags me to install a thing called Silverlight. What is Silverlight, and do I really need it on my computer?


Do You Need Silverlight?

You've probably seen the message: "An application you want to download may require Silverlight." May? If that's marketing, I'm not convinced that I need the product. So what exactly is Silverlight?

Fundamentally, Silverlight is Microsoft's competitive answer to Adobe's Flash, the long-standing dominant standard for multimedia Web applications. Silverlight integrates animations, video, and interactivity (the ability to click on an animated item and trigger a response). Web site developers can do things that would be difficult or impossible without Silverlight. But does that mean they should?

Silverlight requires Microsoft's .NET Framework, another optional Windows component. .NET is probably going to become the prevailing standard under which new Windows applications are developed, so eventually you will need to install it. But is Silverlight going to become a multimedia standard so widely used by Web sites that you absolutely positively must have it in order to enjoy Web surfing adequately?
What is Silverlight?

Probably not, because Silverlight is not compatible with Linux. And most Web servers are running some flavor of Linux. Novell has released Moonlight, a Linux-based free software implementation of Silverlight's framework, in conjunction with Microsoft. But it does not have the full functionality of Silverlight and will probably lag behind for years to come.

Is Silverlight Compatible With My System?

Compatibility with Web browsers is also important for any Web server's software framework. Silverlight is compatible with Firefox, SeaMonkey, Safari, Opera, and Google Chrome - but not under all operating systems. Of course, Silverlight is compatible with Microsoft's own Internet Explorer v6 and later. To see which operating systems support Silverlight under which browsers, see this Wikipedia table.

Adobe Air and Flash are other reasons Silverlight probably won't dominate the Web. Adobe Air is analogous to Microsoft .NET Framework; both provide vast libraries of functions that save programers lots of time and support standardized ways of doing things in applications. Flash/Air competes directly with Silverlight/.NET. Adobe Flash is already the standard multimedia platform on the Web, so the Adobe platform has quite an edge in competition. To learn more about programming Silverlight applications, visit the official Silverlight site.

Who is using Silverlight? eBay, for one. "When you really need to know if you won that eBay item," says Microsoft developer and Silverlight community leader, "use the new auction item tracker tool created by eBay using Silverlight and Internet Explorer 8 (IE 8). This tool allows you to easily track all the items you are interested in as well as see which auctions you've won with a drag and drop tool that runs as a side bar to eBay in IE 8."

Yes, you need IE 8 to use eBay's Silverlight tool. That's a problem with software frameworks such as Silverlight. A Web developer may not have the resources to design the same app for all operating system/browser combinations. We end up with a fragmented Web. People must switch browsers; download and install multiple platforms (.NET, Adobe Air); and add several browser plugins that do the same thing only differently. But that's the free market for you. And we do like the free market.

Resistance May Not Be Futile

So far, I've resisted the siren call of Silverlight on my office computer, and I don't feel like I'm missing anything. Probably because right now, there really aren't many sites using Silverlight. My advice on Silverlight, as with all new software platforms, is to wait until it reaches out and pulls you in. (Remember VRML?) Don't install Silverlight just because Microsoft recommends it. Wait until some new software or ultra-cool website that requires Silverlight comes along, and you just gotta have it.

Got something to say about Silverlight? Post your comments or questions below...

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Most recent comments on "What Is Silverlight And Do I Need It?"

(See all 26 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

24 Sep 2009

This maybe a side issue, but why does M$ want us to use Silverlight, IE and all of their "free" software instead of FF and Flash etc. If it's all free anyway what do they have to gain?

EDITOR'S NOTE: If everyone used MS software, all the other guys would go out of business. Good for MS, right?

Posted by:

Francis Flaherty
25 Sep 2009

Yes, Netflix has chosen Silverlight. I use X
P & Mozilla - a very unusual combination only used by several million people perhaps. Multiple attempts made, silverBlight cannot be installed. light is just more MS Bloat.

Posted by:

25 Sep 2009

I did an update for NetFlix, although I was warned that it would stop working on Windows XP, as I recall. And that there is no turning back. Still, I did it. It didn't work with FireFox so I was ticked. I had to use a different computer with Vista to watch NetFlix. Then one day I tried NetFlix on Chrome with my XP computer. No problems!

Posted by:

25 Sep 2009

I installed Silverlight - briefly. I uninstalled it for personal reasons.

Windows Update-which I have set to
'notify me', not download or install - updates available-it is 'recommended' I believe-as is IE8 and SP3. In checking the box for SP3 - I get a lecture every time WU runs. I have checked 'do not show this again' box for Silverlight and IE8 -but it always comes up anyways making me all the more suspicious.

I am resistant because I do not trust new applications and versions. Vista is a prime example as is Chrome now being preinstalled in some systems. I simply do not know enough about IT to make some decisions so when in doubt I don't.

I have found w/free and paid-for versions of software an 'upgrade' is sometimes a downgrade talked up by the company as a supposed 'improvement'.

Posted by:

01 Oct 2009

I have a Mac and wanted to watch Netflix on my laptop. I was not allowed to do this due to my OS until they implemented Silverlight. So, yes, I have succumbed. Honestly, it doesn't seem necessary.

Posted by:

29 Nov 2009

Silverlight does not work with my AMD Athlon Processor bought in 2002. It seems there are technical reasons which has something to do with the internals of the AMD Athlon Processor. Maybe there aren't many users with this processor, but it's a problem for us.

Posted by:

Frank Weber
10 Apr 2010

Just say no to Silverlight and everything Microsoft.

Go Linux!

Posted by:

22 Oct 2010

here lately my computer won't shut down at night....silverlight is on it ...i don't know how it got there....i don't use it that i know of....i don't watch movies, etc.....should i uninstall it....

EDITOR'S NOTE: I don't think Silverlight is the cause of your shutdown problems. But you can remove it. Go to Control Panel, select Add or Remove Programs, and follow the prompts.

Posted by:

10 Dec 2010

What a cool and helpful article. I am about to uninstall Silverlight from my netbook, and I am sure I won't look back.

I am a free user, not a Microsoft sheep.

Thanks Bob.

Posted by:

16 Dec 2010

Please put a date on your articles, and thanks for all the useful observations.
Deleting the Silverlight package from my netbook as well.

Posted by:

14 Feb 2011

I had to set up Silverlight for Netflix and I work with Firefox on my Mac so far so good!

Posted by:

18 Feb 2011

Thanks for explaining what Silverlight is for. It's taking up a lot of space on my laptop, and I am now comfortable removing it. Thanks!

Posted by:

17 May 2011

I need to see maps from a county website and it requires Silverlight, which requires a password. No PW I choose works, and I really don't want to install it.

But, does that mean I can see the maps?

Posted by:

09 Jul 2011

At home my computer came with silverlight pre-installed, i never use it for anything it just sits there taking up space.

At work im on a work pc and can't install it on the machine here and have never been prompted to do so, so it's not being used nearly as much as microsoft apparently thinks it is.

When it comes to third parties like netflix making it the only way one could watch their online"play now" movies kinda angers me... something that isn't that big a deal shouldn't be forced on people like that. And now comcast "they have a play now type feature to watch old tv episodes of current and past tv programs" is also slowly forcing people to get silverlight or they can't watch...

And microsoft is doing this buy paying these companies to make it a manditory update. Chaulk it up to another Hostile takeover/future fail from microsoft..

Posted by:

poppy fogarty
06 Dec 2011

I recently downloaded a Silverlight update onto my iMac OS, and
immediately all my photos in iPhoto replicated themselves, which increased my library from 7000 units to 14,000 units. This has given me quite a headache as the photos are now all over the place.
Not impressed.Will not be updating Silverlight again

Posted by:

Elna Wilke
14 May 2012

Thanks for the information. I have run across Silverlight when I am doing "Add or Remove Programs". It came installed on my computer, and I never knew what it did, so afraid to uninstall it. I have the programs you said competed with it-Adobe, etc. So, this article was quite useful. Now just keep on explaining other pre-installed programs.

Posted by:

25 Jul 2012

Bill Gates supporting GMO and vaccines are two good reasons to say NO to microsoft products... IMO

Posted by:

Jubal Harshaw
13 Feb 2013

My computer freezes when Ebay calls Silverlight on IE9 and I'm not alone. Last time I googled the problem there were about 2 pages of Ebay/Silverlight computer freeze problems. It's not a virus. Scans with 2 different virus softwares are negative. I switched to Chrome and I no longer have a problem.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2013

Bill Gates supporting GMO and vaccines are two Great reasons to say Yes to microsoft products.

Posted by:

Fire Fly
14 Mar 2013

Silverlight is yet another spy tracking device (etc..). There is no 'need' for it to us as the 'user' - unless procured 'need' is set up that way by partners in this sedition.. (IE: PayPal, etc..) And, it goes beyond 'Free Enterprise'.. Free for who? Who is really profiting from adding more and more 'choice' (chaos)?? :p lol

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