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The Computer Corner

REG COMPUTERS

By Charles Miller

The Absurd Extremes to Which Legacy Software Can Lead

This week marks an anniversary of sorts, one that Microsoft would probably love to forget but at the same time one that perfectly exemplifies the software industry’s “legacy problem.”

It was on September 5, 2007 that Microsoft Silverlight was released with much fanfare. Silverlight is an application framework for creating websites, and among other things made it much easier to view videos online. It seemed like a sure winner to enable user’s ability to play videos in the web browser they already knew how to use rather than requiring them to download and install other video-player software programs.

NBC jumped on the bandwagon, and if you watched any of the 2008 Summer Olympics or the 2010 Winter Olympics streaming on your computer, then you watched video using Silverlight. Amazon Video and Netflix also used Silverlight for their instant video streaming services, but other than that, Microsoft’s system did not achieve much market success.

There was not much wrong with Silverlight, but it was one software product in a competitive market where there were other options, and those others did not involve website owners paying a royalty to Microsoft. By 2012, Microsoft could see the writing on the wall and announced the end of life for Silverlight, except for patches and bug fixes. By this time, almost all websites on the Internet had abandoned using Silverlight anyway.

Here comes the “legacy problem.” While every major website on the web had abandoned Silverlight, there is a little-known club in Transylvania, the Dedicated Undertakers and Morticians Brotherhood (DUMB), still using Silverlight on its website. Hyperbole is my friend here. The DUMB website only has a dozen people using it, but they all need to use Silverlight to view the content on the DUMB website.

When Microsoft sold Silverlight to the DUMB website designers, that sale came with a guarantee to support the software for 10 years. So even though the DUMB website is the only one on the Internet that needs Silverlight, while millions of other websites do not, Microsoft is honoring its promise to support its depreciated software until 2021.

Starting in 2008 and continuing to the present day, Microsoft installs Silverlight on every Windows PC using its Windows Update facility, so every Windows computer has it now. Today there may be only twelve DUMB club members who visit the DUMB website and need Silverlight, yet every month when Windows updates itself, Silverlight gets pushed out to more than a billion Windows-powered PCs in use in the world.

Each one of those computers has Silverlight installed on it, even though only the twelve DUMB club members will ever use it. This is an example of a software legacy issue at its most absurd but one that I hope will give the reader a better understanding of what the legacy software problem is.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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