I hate Silverlight with a flaming passion

See, I’m a big fan of internet connectivity. I like that fact that with uncapped ADSL I can surf, download and stream content at a moments notice without so much as a dropped packet when I was on 3G networks. And because I’m a big supporter of using the internet for education and to increase your knowledge, it stands to reason that I turn to and rely on video streaming websites to either answer questions I might have about a product or to watch press releases and conferences on the subject matter at hand. For Nokia’s recent unveiling event where the Lumia 920 and 820, the conference was broadcast live from a separate page on their website and by all accounts it seemed to have gone well.

Or at least it went well for the people who were physically there. Because Nokia, in all their wisdom, decided to leave the streaming part of the conference not to a flash-based program, or to HTML5. No, they decided to tell everyone to make sure they had Silverlight installed. Ffffffffiuuuuuuuu-!

“But what’s your beef with Silverlight?”, I hear you ask? Well, lets start off with some numbers. Silverlight is currently installed in just about every Windows computer with automatic updates enabled. Since there’s been over 350 million licenses sold for Windows 7 since its launch in late 2009, we can assume around one and a half billion computers on the internet today use either XP, Vista or Windows 7. With the first release of the internet-based plugin in 2007, 300 million users installed it within a month through Windows update – that means that on just about every Windows computer you’ll see today, someone has accepted to update to install the runtime.

Many fans of the internet-based runtime agree that in its current form, version 5, its actually pretty good for rendering GPU-accelerated websites. But I’ve yet to see more than a handful of websites relevant to my interests that runs on Silverlight. Netflix famously uses it to deliver video to its subscribers in Ameria, but it never works properly for a good number of users. Because its not just for video delivery, Silverlight could be deployed to render an entire website all on its own. Except, well… I can count the sites I know use Silverlight on two hands. Its not even used to deliver video in most cases, that job is now left to Flash Player and HTML5. Both are better streamers because of two things that Silverlight won’t let you do:

1) Both Flash Player and HTML5-based video streamers allow you to download the video you’re watching, or at the very least buffer and queue it up for later viewing without any interruptions. Silverlight flips you the finger and requires you to re-download the video every time and won’t buffer the entire thing either. Because its a secure, encrypted protocol, its nearly impossible to decode it without doing a really, really fancy workaround with an audio loop and using screencasting software to record the video as you’re watching it.

2) You can’t change the video quality on Silverlight. Its dependant on multiple factors but in its current form, it has a low setting of 850k for lower line speeds that it automatically selects for you. That’s perfect for a 1MB/s line, but not 384KB/s, so I was tearing my hair out every time I hit the buffer ten seconds later (that’s right, I’m making this my excuse for my receding hairline when you see me at rAge). Added to the fact that sometimes it bumps up the streaming quality to 1.8MB or even 3MB when I’m still on a crappy 384 line, I was yearning for that option in Youtube to bump things down to 240p.

But that’s something HTML5 is guilty of, too. There are already sites using the protocol to deliver video and it usually doesn’t have a quality setting either. You can download it through an application but you’re stuck with whatever quality the video renders at depending on your line speed. So if you’re watching a bootlegged episode of The Boondocks in future, you’ll have two options for video quality when streaming through HTML5; SD and HD. HD is whatever quality setting the site can render to you on your line speed, whether its 720p or 1080p is irrelevant, because they won’t actually tell you.

What’s even more annoying is the dropping of H.264 support in the HTML5 plugins by Mozilla with Firefox 15 (which I installed two days ago). It now requires a manual install of the H.264 codec through the Windows Media player plugin. So now instead of watching whatever video I’m looking up, I now get this:

Thank you, Mozilla, for chasing me to Chrome once again.

What’s even more annoying is that Google is planning to remove H.264 support from Chrome as well in a future release. H.264 carries a hefty license fee for the video providers and many people are instead using HTML5 as an encapsulation for video in the Ogg or the VP8 format, both of which are royalty-free and easy to implement.

So my apologies if I couldn’t bring you a blow-by-blow account of the Nokia Press Conference as it happened. I was lugged so far behind the rest of the world thanks to the bright sparks at several companies who only think that only the US and European nations are their target markets. I’m even still stuck with this annoying error that gives me no indication of what’s wrong.

Gee, I would never have guessed. Maybe the required parameter is common sense?

It looks like I may need to upgrade back to 2MB/s and find another workaround for my browsers. Either that, or I’ll have to move to the Konqueror web browser. And that’s the last thing I’ll do.

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