Silverlight and Apollo: The Creation Tools Will Matter

Now that Microsoft’s Mix ’07 is put-to-bed and all the requisite excitement has devolved into a mulling it over stage, I’d like to add one thing to the conversation. The container for Apollo and Silverlight isn’t what matters. The tools to *create* what goes in those containers is what matters.

When I wrote Microsoft Surprise: Controlling the Process days ago, I was already fully aware that the tools Microsoft had developed (Expression) could be the defining factor on who would win the container war. Though Adobe would argue this point with Flex — and I’m not aware of what they probably have up their sleeve — I’m not seeing the high level tools that the people working on the brushstrokes need (the graphic designers, user interface people, etc.). Flex is a tool for those creating/programming with keystrokes and is not a tool for someone who is skilled at look-n-feel, color and a users experience.

Adobe releasing Apollo and Microsoft, Silverlight is just the first skirmish…there haven’t been any battles yet and the war is far from over. Why will higher level tools matter?

When I remember back to the early days of the desktop publishing revolution, I became a student of printing history and enamored with what Johannes Gutenberg had done to explode literacy around the world with his tool to create printed works. Without movable type and the press, books would still be created by hand.

Pagemaker and then Quark gave designers the tools to create printed works and pass off digital files to a prepress house and ultimately to the press. The analogue to today’s Internet world is that the page layout designers are to the Web creation folks as programmers are to prepress and press operators (though my developer buddies would cough up a hairball to hear me talk about them like they’re unionized keyboard bangers and ink pushers, but you catch my drift).

These higher level tools is why my wife’s business of 21 years exists. Without the major cost reductions available to common folks like us, we never would’ve started the publishing business.

Tools are also why I think Brightcove has an excellent chance of being the company to break out in the create-your-own-video channel space. They’ve got tools for producers and programmers (TV programmers, that is) to perform ad insertion, replays and other workflow that make running ones own “channel” possible.

I’m less interested in the container runtime that all this stuff collapses in to and more interested in who is nailing the workflow and higher level tools to create and deliver rich, Internet applications. Microsoft appears to have a competitive differentiator with Expression and they really understand the people that do keystroking…

…but Adobe totally and completely understands the design community and it’s in their DNA. I’m betting Adobe only released a developer-centric version of Apollo since they’re not ready to release their higher level tools. This is gonna be fun to watch.


  1. Gregg Morris on May 2, 2007 at 10:35 am


    I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said. However, even if Adobe does hook the designer tools to Apollo, don’t you think that Microsoft still has a leg up with the breadth of development languages that Silverlight supports? I’m surprised that this hasn’t been played up more than it has.

  2. kcmarshall on May 2, 2007 at 10:57 am

    You are dead on: this will be an interesting battle of ecosystems.

    Don’t forget that many of the creatives who drive Adobe products for a living hold strongly negative attitudes towards the Microsoft ecosystem. I doubt you can pay top creative talent enough $$ to switch over to a Microsoft toolset.

    Adobe _will_ need to provide developers the ability to get their job done and to integrate development workflow with creative workflow. They will be forced to be “open” about this – supporting .NET, java and LAMP technologies equally.

    With a web culture of individual publishing and participation waiting to jump on board, Adobe could have a distinct advantage if they can join – and not try to own – the conversation.

  3. Steve Borsch on May 2, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Gregg and KC — I do think MSFT has a leg up with understanding the entire value chain of creating and delivering apps. Unfortunately they have to serve everyone. Every developer; all the I.T. folks in every company; the OEM’s that load the OS on their machines; the ecosystem that needs their drivers on everything.

    The beauty of the Internet platform and virtual OS manifested in Web 2.0 is that the possibility of serving everyone will get easier. Unfortunately design, beauty, creativity, and artistry always takes a back seat to the functionality. Function-over-form is key.

    One example: how many times have you watched a Powerpoint presentation and a single sentence wordwraps but the second line is automatically indented? There is some buried, obscure toggle that makes turning that off seemingly impossible for most users. It’s a little thing, but I cringe in 90% of all the slideshows I sit through since it looks like sh*t and always has. This sort of non-obvious bit twiddling is what drives anyone who designs frickin’ crazy and MSFT is deaf and blind to subtleties and nuances like this. Adobe understands that designers want pixel-level control and the tools to get great results.

    As you pointed out trust is also a huge issue. Anyone I know who designs uses a Mac so unless the tools to create these Expression apps are high design; high control; and places 10x benefit in the hands of designers, they won’t even use them with BootCamp or Parallels (IMHO).

  4. PXLated on May 3, 2007 at 9:02 pm

    My dream is Apple buys Adobe, streamlines everything (Adobe has become bloatware) and does to web/print creation what they’ve done for video/audio with products up and down the consumer/pro lines.
    As a side note, I’ve heard Adobe has a big problem in that they have their own internal cross platform dev environment that doesn’t allow them to really take advantage of the underlying Mac or Windows technology. Sounded like a good idea back 10 years but is hindering them now. Don’t know if it’s true but does make some sense.

  5. Ryan Stewart on May 9, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    Steve, this is a fantastic post. Great perspective and excellent analysis. I think this might be one of my favorites of yours 🙂

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About Steve Borsch

Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.