Just as it seemed that Linux users (especially 64-bit users) would finally be able to enjoy streaming content with a minimum of hassle, Microsoft's new Silverlight software promises to throw a wrench in the works. Because of sites like Google Video and Youtube, Flash video has become a common means of streaming multimedia over the Internet. With the recent release of Flash 9 for Linux, users have access to much of the same content as their OS X and Windows counterparts.
The Silverlight software, based on the preexisting Windows Media Video standard, is a “cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of media experiences and rich interactive applications (RIAs) for the Web,” according to a recent press release available here on Microsoft's website. Though Silverlight sounds very promising, and may actually displace Flash video as the means most sites use to stream content, Microsoft has yet to even hint at the planned existence of a Linux plug-in. Apparently, cross-platform only includes Windows and OS X, even though there is an ever-increasing Linux user base.
This is not the first time Microsoft has caused problems for web users running Linux. When Windows Media 9 was first released, there was no support for it in any Linux media player. Wrappers were written allowing 32-bit Linux users to use Windows DLL files in Mplayer, but this was not an ideal solution. The legality and licensing of using Windows DLLs in Linux is questionable at best. 64-bit users did not even have this option, and were instead forced to run a 32-bit precompiled version of Mplayer to get any Windows Media 9 support. It was only in the past year that Mplayer was able to release native codecs for WM9 in both a 32-bit and 64-bit environment.
Because of the inital lack of codecs, and the predominance of WMV streaming video, viewing embedded content in Linux was difficult at best, and sometimes impossible. As Flash continues to replace or stand alongside WMV on an increasing number of sites, Linux users could all but forget about the problems before.
Now, it seems that users might end up back where they started, if Silverlight gets off the ground. According to the press release, Microsoft has already gained support from companies such as Akamai Technologies Inc., Brightcove Inc., Eyeblaster Inc., Limelight Networks, Major League Baseball and Netflix Inc. If Silverlight continues to show this level of success, Linux users may have to start hoping that a plug-in, or at least a workaround, will be developed by a third-party. Certainly, Microsoft will not want to give one of its primary competitors, especially one they tend to (conveniently) ignore anyway, any such help.