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 32 comments for this article.)

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

Posted by:

10 Jun 2015

Is it ok to use CCleaner with my windows 8.1 and my solid state drive?

Posted by:

02 Jul 2015

Is it possible that Silverlight is a tracking program? I am not computer literate. In this day and age of government snooping is it possible though?

EDITOR'S NOTE: Not sure why you'd wonder about that... if Microsoft wanted to track your online activities, they could just build that into the Windows operating system.

Posted by:

14 Jul 2015

Flash! [sic] Prof Bob, this 'ere should put a nail in it:

Microsoft: Stop using Microsoft Silverlight. (Everyone else has)
Says websites should switch to HTML5-based playback as netizens snub plugins

2 Jul 2015 , Neil McAllister
...Microsoft said it will continue to support Silverlight for out-of-browser applications for the dozen or so of you who are using it
for that purpose, and Silverlight will still be supported in Internet Explorer 11 if you absolutely must use it on the web.

Posted by:

James Wilburn
06 May 2016

Microsoft Silverlight was pre-installed on my Computer,I didn't know it existed,it never deleted when I went to Win 8.1 then to win 10 & 10.1, now Microsoft accused me of A copyright violation & is wanting to take legal action on me. I'm not guilty of any violation & I will be 84 in July, 2016, my wife is 80 & social security is our way of life. I'm not a criminal, only a victim of circumstance, WHAT TO DO!!

Posted by:

22 Oct 2017

I wouldn't give my credit card information out to tech support scammers, James. Ignore and enjoy.

Posted by:

11 Apr 2018

I'm not teccy, but looking at the amount of programs this computer has built up over the years (-5+), I would like to lighten the load now. I've got a few items on ebay, but I fancy taking a chancee to remove Silverlight for your reasons above...If this causes a problem to me using ebay, I trust I can always install it again, but hey, I'm taking the chance :~) Thank you for your article.


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