Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight are now more comparable than ever. Until recently, a direct comparison was considered misguided because Silverlight lacked the out-of-browser capabilities AIR delivered. Before that, Silverlight’s media support lagged behind Flash, but Microsoft has been quick to remedy Silverlight’s shortcomings. Nevertheless, the decision of platforms may depend on more than just a simple checklist of features.

“It is difficult to answer the question of comparison in a straightforward way,” said Adrian Ludwig, group manager of Adobe’s Flash Platform. “You can build solutions in [AIR or Silverlight] in about 10% of cases, but in 90% of the cases, Silverlight is more competitive with Flash Player because they [both run] graphics, animations and RIAs in the browser.”

In-browser experiences make Silverlight competitive with Flash. Out-of-browser experiences make Silverlight competitive with AIR, he said.

The big benefit is writing a Web application that can run online or offline, in the browser or on the desktop.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson, the Microsoft Silverlight team categorically avoids comparative discussions, so official Microsoft commentary is absent from this article. SD Times did talk with Novell, which is providing Linux support through Moonlight. We also talked to some third-party developers and industry analysts to get their perspectives about how AIR and Silverlight stack up.

Not surprisingly, views differ.

Eric Knipp, a senior research analyst at Gartner, considers AIR and Silverlight comparable in most use scenarios, although Flash provides AIR with broader market penetration than Silverlight given its high installer rate on PCs. Flash is also being extended to mobile devices.

Dave Wolf, vice-president of Strategy at software development firm Cynergy Systems, also considers AIR and Silverlight directly competitive. Miguel de Icaza, vice-president of Development Platforms at Novell, is a fan of AIR, Flash and Silverlight, and he said he doesn’t have a preference.

About Lisa Morgan

Lisa Morgan is an analyst at Strategic Rainmakers.