Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc. are racing to get users to install Silverlight and Flash, their respective plug-in software tools for rich Web applications, though one industry analyst predicts Microsoft will not bundle its RIA tool with Internet Explorer.
"They both have their own power positions," said Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond, citing Flash's installed base, which has been pegged in the 90 per cent range.
"The one place that Microsoft holds a wild card is with developers. There still are not that many Flex developers out there," Hammond added, referring to Adobe's toolset for RIA applications. The company is also developing the Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR), which lets Web developers build RIAs that can run on the desktop.
Of course, Microsoft's worldwide legions of programmers don't pose a great advantage if not enough users install Silverlight, its cross-platform browser plug-in for RIA applications.
"They need to get Silverlight on 70 to 80 percent of the Internet-connected machines," said Greg DeMichillie, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.
One of the quickest ways to do that would be to ship the next version of Internet Explorer with Silverlight already embedded. But Hammond said this is unlikely, because doing so would likely prompt cries of outrage from competitors and perhaps antitrust lawsuits against Microsoft.
Microsoft has instead has tried to seed usage of Silverlight through other tactics, such as getting high-traffic Web sites like NBA.com to use it. That in turn compels site visitors to install the plug-in.
Silverlight 1.0 focuses largely on streaming media and therefore has more relevance for consumer-facing projects than enterprise IT shops.
That all changes with the next version, which is expected in beta form early next year. "Silverlight 2.0 is where it gets interesting," Hammond said.
The next release includes a subset of Microsoft's .NET Framework, meaning the company's vast base of developers can program against it using familiar .NET languages as well as tools like Visual Studio.
The company has also aimed at Adobe's sweet spot -- graphic design applications -- with its Expression line of products.
Adobe, on the other hand, may not have an adoption problem for its plug-in, and already has won the hearts and minds of graphic designers everywhere, but is not nearly as strong in tools as Microsoft.
"The biggest thing Adobe needs to bring FlexBuilder up to date with modern developer tools," said DeMichillie. "I would say they are two years behind Visual Studio."
"The other thing not to underestimate is the value of Microsoft's programming languages," he added. "C# and VB -- they are real programming languages," he said. "[Adobe's] ActionScript has certainly grown up in the last year or two, but you won't find people building industrial-strength applications with it."