Intel and Microsoft have announced a new port of Silverlight to Linux, specifically for the Intel-sponsored Moblin operating system running on Atom-powered devices such as netbooks. The port enables Intel to include Silverlight as a supported runtime in the Atom Developer Program, which will feed an iPhone-like App Store.
Microsoft has already provided Intel with Silverlight source code and test suites. Intel will build an optimized Moblin version of Silverlight, which Microsoft will supply to OEMs.
There are a couple of surprising aspects to the announcement. One is that a Linux implementation of Silverlight already exists, the open source Moonlight project. We asked Microsoft’s Brian Goldfarb, director of the Developer Platform Group, why Moonlight was not being used for Atom devices. Goldfarb replied by making a distinction between "broad Linux," which is targeted by Moonlight, and specific Linux-based devices where Microsoft might support other implementations.
"The effort with Intel has nothing to do with the developer community of broad Linux," he said. "It's specifically scoped to Atom-based devices and is really about customer experiences out of the box. I look at the two things as compatible. Intel and Microsoft working together to deliver these phone and MID [Mobile Internet Device] experiences, whereas Moonlight is focused on desktop Linux."
Goldfarb says the announcement is part of a high-level strategy in which Microsoft aims to bring Silverlight to "as many platforms and as many devices as possible," He adds that, in comparison to Moonlight, the work with Intel is "pretty far apart from a philosophical perspective, regardless of any technical similarities."
He expects Silverlight for Moblin to be completed round about Summer 2010 and promised more in-depth technical details no later than the Mix conference in mid-March.
The other supported runtimes in Intel's Atom program are native code, Java, and Adobe AIR. These differ from Silverlight in that they are desktop runtimes, whereas Silverlight mainly works in the browser, though version 3 adds the ability to run out of browser but still within a security sandbox. Will Intel add new ways to use Silverlight as a desktop runtime? "I don't have enough detail on that. I don't think it's completely worked out," said Goldfarb.
Intel's support is a useful boost for Silverlight. The announcement is also a PR effort that enables Microsoft's long-term partner to appear to put Silverlight on the same level as Adobe AIR, which currently looks better suited for devices like a Moblin netbook.
The awkward question: If it's that easy to port Microsoft Silverlight to Linux, why does the Moonlight project exist at all?
"I'm really clear about our commitment to Moonlight. I see the work we're doing with Miguel and Moonlight as core to our strategy for delivering implementations for Linux," says Goldfarb, protesting, perhaps, a little too much. ®