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Wednesday, 28 May 2008 07:35

NY Times readers give thumbs down to Silverlight

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The New York Times has followed through on its promise to deliver a Mac version of its Times Reader application, but readers are unimpressed. Why? The NYT chose Microsoft's Silverlight for the implementation.

Times Reader presents headlines, stories and pictures in a newspaper-like multicolumn layout, and caches the material so it can be read offline.

Microsoft describes Silverlight as "a cross-browser, cross-platform, and cross-device plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web." It can be used in the creation of applications that run on the desktop as well as in web browsers. Silverlight is largely seen as an alternative to Adobe's Flash.

The NYT selected Silverlight because the Windows version of the Reader had been built using Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), and Silverlight includes a subset of that technology. That said, Times Reader for Mac is a native Cocoa application - it just uses Silverlight to do some of the work.

While the Mac version provides better searching than its Windows sibling (with full text searching over seven days rather then one day of headlines, bylines and article summaries), text flow is not supported so the view is restricted to four pre-set window sizes, and copy and paste are not accessible.

"We are committed to bringing the Mac version to feature parity with the PC version," said Rob Larson, vice president of digital production at NYTimes.com.

But any temporary shortcomings weren't the cause of most comments on Larson's blog post.

What were they complaining about? Please read on.


While several commenters thanked the paper for providing a Mac version of the Reader and some noted technical problems, making Silverlight a prerequisite drew considerable opprobrium.

"I am so sorry you chose to tie up NYT with Microsoft’s proprietary Silverlight," wrote a commenter using the name Adam Foster. "Where was David Pogue when this Silverlight decision was made for Mac users?"

"Microsoft’s Silverlight on my Mac? NEVER!" wrote 'Steve', and 'Chris' followed that theme with "Microsoft software on my Mac??? You’ve got to be joking. Thanks, but no thanks."

Some readers asked why Flash or some other technology wasn't adopted (the existing WPF code appears to be the reason), but others took a more balanced view.

"As a long-time Mac user, I do love the crazies who say 'I will NEVER have ANY Microsoft software anywhere near my machine EVER'. Oh, please... don’t be so dramatic," wrote 'rwk'

One of the most extreme responses came from 'Dan Juarez' who wrote "Thanks, but I’ll pass on this one... and your paper as well. I’m canceling my subscription." (Sounds like bluster to me, but you never know.)

What's my take? Go on just one more page and I'll share it with you.


I've got mixed feelings about this. On one hand, the proliferation of proprietary add-ons leads to Balkanisation. On the other, if the Silverlight code had actually been incorporated into Times Reader as distributed, few people would even have noticed. Do you ever read the fine print in an application that spells out which libraries etc were used to build it?

The main point about using Times Reader rather than the NYT web site is that it collects all the day's news for you to browse at leisure. I can't help wondering whether current efforts to allow web applications to run offline couldn't be applied to this sort of situation.

If nothing else, that would help stem the quasi-religious complaints about the acceptability of software from one company or another.

But for now I suspect that if the NYT did produce a version of the Reader for Linux using Moonlight then the cries from GPL purists would be even more strident.


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Stephen Withers

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Stephen Withers is one of Australia¹s most experienced IT journalists, having begun his career in the days of 8-bit 'microcomputers'. He covers the gamut from gadgets to enterprise systems. In previous lives he has been an academic, a systems programmer, an IT support manager, and an online services manager. Stephen holds an honours degree in Management Sciences and a PhD in Industrial and Business Studies.

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