Microsoft is embracing HTML5 rather than its own Silverlight solution as the future of cross-platform media rendering. Even Adobe is demonstrating support for HTML5, while Apple and Google are strong supporters. HTML5 is still only half-baked, but is gaining ground as the new standard for web presentation.

At the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Redmond, Washington, the talk was all about HTML5 rather than Silverlight. Microsoft envisages applications running on personal computers, phones and televisions together with services in the cloud.

“The glue that allows this world to come together and allows for amazing innovation is HTML5,” said Steve Ballmer. “People build apps on the back end that increasingly think about HTML5 as their lingua franca for talking to all the smart devices across the planet.”

Microsoft Silverlight was developed as an alternative to Adobe Flash as a way of delivering cross-platform rich interactive applications but failed to gain real traction.

The lack of support for either Flash or Silverlight on Apple iOS devices has been partly responsible for increased interest in HTML5, which can include audio and video elements natively, without the need for a plugin.

Bob Muglia, who is responsible for the Microsoft server and tools business, is quoted as saying that its strategy had shifted. “Silverlight will continue to be a cross-platform solution, but HTML is the only true cross platform solution for everything”. Microsoft is now positioning Silverlight primarily for use in Windows Phone development.

Microsoft has strong support for HTML5 in the latest preview releases of its Internet Explorer 9 browser and most recent browsers offer some level of support for HTML5.

Even Adobe is extending support for HTML5. At its developer conference, Adobe demonstrated a prototype tool that for creating animations in HTML5 compatible code. It has also added an HTML5 video player widget in its Dreamweaver web authoring application.

Over half of web video is now apparently compatible with HTML5, significantly including YouTube. Google is extending its HTML5 support for YouTube, pushing the WebM open video codec, as well as H.264.

Long-form professional videos still tend to rely on Flash or Silverlight, largely for business rather than technical reasons, as they currently provide better support for securing content and including advertising.

The real problem is that half the browsers that most people use do not support HTML5, which remains immature and has yet to be ratified as a standard. While runtime environments like Adobe Flash and Microsoft Silverlight can offer considerable consistency of presentation across platforms and browsers, the world of web standards remains riddled with inconsistencies and incompatibilities.

However, there is at least the prospect of convergence on common standards for the delivery and presentation of audiovisual media to network connected devices and displays.