Microsoft Silverlight, pet-named “Flash killer” by the Web 2.0 community, replicates many of the features of Macromedia Flash technology. Silverlight was first unveiled at the NAB Show, in early 2006, but it is only recently that it has gotten increasing spotlight from the industry. Somewhat intriguing, yet quite telling was that Microsoft featured Silverlight at the recently held Java One 2007, a major, traditionally M$-unfriendly annual conference of Java developers and vendors. Less surprisingly, it was the center point of the Microsoft’s own Mix 2007, annual conference of web developers. Even though Silverlight is still left behind by Paris Hilton, it surely bypassed Britney in making headlines, at least - in the geek world. Judging by the enormous marketing blast, it is obvious that when it comes to Silverlight, Microsoft makes no jokes.

Why is Silverlight so important?

The new web, the so-called Web 2.0, is a two-headed phenomena. On one side it is a culture, a web-philosophy with the notions of the power of social unity, global outreach, two-way communication and extreme personalization at its foundation. On another side, it is a breakthrough in user-experience technology - Ajax being the most famous example. Ajax is great for responsive, ergonomic interfaces, the kinds you find in Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, Meebo and every other Web 2.0 site, but it is not the only important technology driving the web revolution. New web is heavy on rich media and until recently Flash was the dominant technology for multimedia delivery on the web. YouTube would not exist without the Flash Streaming technology and Flash Video format. Many audio podcast websites have flash audio players. Fancy image galleries are driven by Flash technology enabling greater interactivity. And the list goes on…

Unsurprisingly Microsoft, in response, did what it knows the best - “photocopied” all of Flash’s features and launched a heavy marketing campaign to shove the next [Microsoft] “breakthrough” down the throats of its army of customers. And those our Redmond buddies have plenty, of course. For the sake of greater market penetration, they decided to support even Safari - the standard browser on Apple OS X operating system, archrival platform of MS Windows.

The direct exposure through the existing client base, huge financial strength and the top-notch marketing department give Microsoft significant advantage to successfully compete with Adobe, the owner company of the Flash technology with almost ten times less financial resources and hundred times less market influence.

Google, help!

Call me paranoid, if you will, but I simply can’t help the analogy with Microsoft-Netscape situation at the dawn of Web 1.0. Netscape had this cool thing called Javascript. There came Microsoft, “stole” Javascript, made its own thing out of it, completely incompatible with the Netscape original and put the whole Web into many years of stagnation through the Browser Wars. As soon as the industry managed to heal itself through the Web 2.0, Microsoft is trying to do the whole thing all over again. The scary thing is - if it has to face just Adobe, Microsoft can do it again.

Fortunately, there are other strong players in the market, this time around, who don’t usually lie under Microsoft’s pressure. Google, of course, is the most resourceful and innovative of the crowd. And Google we look-up to, for help.

With the risk of pissing off O’Reilly Media, who claim they coined the name, yet never did much about it since, I would say Google is the father of Web 2.0. Google made Web 2.0 possible by, at times, starting prominent 2.0 services (Google Maps, Gmail) and, at other times, financing (MySpace through the advertising deal) or purchasing (YouTube) them – therefore validating the sustainability, reality of the notion for the rest of the industry.

Flash, as the backbone technology for the rich-media Web 2.0 is too important. Microsoft can not be allowed to burry it, or create another incompatibility war, and it’s not Adobe who can put up the fight. Adobe is too small, it does not understand Flash too well (got it through the acquisition of Macromedia) and treats Flash in a way that is way too proprietary and closed. Adobe made Flash-based Rich Internet Application (RIA) framework Flex a commercial product, seriously constraining its spread and growth. Google, on the other hand is big enough to take better care of Flash, has much more experience in opening-up technologies and can afford to do so, financially. Google does not need to make money off of Flex sales. Saving the multi-billion investment in Flash-driven YouTube is more important.

To close the argument, it’s useful to remember that Adobe owns another very important, proprietary format - Portable Document Format (PDF). PDF is a universal format for storing electronic documents, dominant on all platforms most importantly – mobile devices like PDAs and smartphones. It sure would not hurt Google to get PDF as a “by-product” of “saving” Flash. Pitch in there the ultimate creativity suite of Photoshop, Indesign and Illustrator combination, for a complete office experience and acquiring Adobe sure does not sound like a bad idea.

Of course, Adobe will not be cheap to buy. According to Valueline, market cap. of Adobe is at $25.4B. That is one expensive acquisition for Google, with market cap. of $147B. Difficult – not impossible. Google can definitely afford it, but Eric, Larry and Sergei will have to spend some time with the Google board, explaining just how strategically important the move is.