With the recent announcement of Silverlight being released to the web and the corollary announcement that Microsoft will work with Novell to create a player, named Moonlight, for running Silverlight on Linux, there's been quite a bit of commentary, some of which can be seen on Digg and SlashDot. There are many different lenses to view this announcement with. For me, the announcement dovetails with a lot of thinking I've been doing about the Web 2.0 phenomenon and, in particular, its articulation by Yochai Benkler in The Wealth of Networks. I'm about halfway through the book (at over 500 pages it is dense). As Bruce Sterling commented at SxSW last year, it is the Das Capital of Web 2.0 -- the allusion to Adam Smith in the title shouldn't be discounted either. Invisible hand of Web 2.0 anyone?
I love Benkler's theorization of commons-based peer production. He quite elegantly unpacks the "new modes of production" that are governing the transformation of information and entertainment. But sometimes I feel his position isn't nuanced enough and becomes either too celebratory or too barbed. And Microsoft seems to always fall into the "bad guy" camp, where, for example, IBM doesn't? I don't feel that he gives Microsoft credence in being a positive force toward the "transformation of markets and freedom." Partly, this is because he wants to use open source as his shining example of how commons-based peer production works and, rhetorically, he must position Microsoft as the "other way". He never teases this out fully, a shame, and his discussion of technology disrupts his more interesting theorization on the cultural and economic consequences. In discrediting Microsoft, he ends up putting Microsoft down and not recognizing that, in fact, Microsoft is not antithetical to commons-based peer production. He falls into the very common trap of not acknowledging Microsoft as a platform company. The infrastructure required for commons-based peer production is made available by Microsoft, often for free, whether it is in the form of an operating system, a development language, a database, a web server or a blogging engine. The list could go on and on here: Popfly, Codeplex (not to mention the thousands of Windows and .NET projects on SourceForge), Windows Live and more.
And this is where Moonlight comes to mind: to me it is yet another example of how Microsoft is in fact committed to the explosion of the Web 2.0 phenomenon. Just as Microsoft embraced web services and interoperability for improved heterogeneity in the back end, Silverlight and Moonlight are acts of embracing interoperability and heterogeneity on the front end. To bring it back to Benkler, I can create my videos using Microsoft tooling and know that they will be viewable on a Mac, a Windows box or a Linux box in the browser of my choice.