Monday, April 21, 2008

Where is the Silverlight nag install controversy?

Silverlight install prompt
(click for full screen install image)

After following the Safari 3.1 on Windows installation controversy here, here. and here, I can't help but wonder why anyone that has to go to on a regular basis hasn't cried out in agony at the unavoidable prompt to install Silverlight. Here's how this is a horrendous user experience:

It is unavoidable. Think Emperor Palpatine's voice from Return of the Jedi. No matter where on Microsoft's site you go to, MSDN, Mactopia, Sysinternals, you are going to get prompted to install Silverlight.

You can't ignore it. No matter how many times you click the X on the prompt, go back to the Microsoft site later, you are going to get prompted again. Over and over and over again.

It's a roadblock to whatever you are trying to do. Instead of the prompt being unobtrusive and just happens to show to anyone without Silverlight installed in a corner somewhere, no, it is a modal prompt for click here to see the full "experience"

Ed Bott posted a comment on this post which included a link to a post of his own. His comment seemed like he was trying to help, but confusing because as I clearly show in the screenshot above, there is no "No Thanks" next to the X. I went to his post, where I was greeted with the unfriendly title Generating fake outrage over Silverlight. Clearly, Ed thought I was trying to counter the posts about the bad Safari on Windows install prompt experience (which again I think is bad), which is not the case. I thought it strange that no one, either Windows or Mac focused, had said anything about the poor user experience I was seeing with Silverlight install prompts on * (the star is very important) with all the talk of Safari on Windows floating around. In Ed's post, he provides one piece of invaluable information, the screenshot of Firefox with the Silverlight install prompt cookie name, to solving this tech mystery. I could have done without the condescension (Side note: of course I have heard of cookies Ed, but it shouldn't have to be my job to figure out the * cookie strategy to not be prompted to install Silverlight), but a tip of the hat to Ed for at least providing the screenshot. This is what is going on:

Ed is absolutely right that if you go to, you see these prompts (click for larger versions):

Internet Explorer 7Firefox 3.1.1

When you click on No Thanks (X) on any of these, a cookie is put on your machine that expires in 1 month (click each image for larger version):

Internet Explorer 7Firefox 3.1.1

How am I seeing a continual prompt to install Silverlight then? You have to understand how I have been using the microsoft site. I hadn't gone directly to until yesterday. I only go directly to other dedicated hosts, these are the two I have been using most, and I was testing with yesterday:

If you visit either of these sites in Internet Explorer only without the cookie, you get the original prompt I show at the top of this post (Firefox and Safari do not offer this prompt even without the cookie). If you click the X on this prompt, no cookie is ever set to record your choice of not wanting Silverlight. Here is the state of my IE cookies before going to MSDN, after MSDN loads but before hitting X on the Silverlight prompt, and after hitting X on the Silverlight prompt (click for larger images):

Internet Explorer Cookies Before Going to MSDN
Internet Explorer Cookies After Going to MSDN, but before clicking X on the Silverlight install prompt
Internet Explorer Cookies After Going to MSDN, and after clicking X on the Silverlight install prompt. Notice no change (other than my slightly different cropping of the window)

There is also some kind of session timeout involved in seeing the prompt in IE. If you haven't been to either of the above sites I list in some time, then you will get the prompt to install, and you can get them to display back to back. I have been seeing this for well over a month. Ed posted another comment saying that Silverlight devs/support techs know about this and it's a rare bug. That said, if you have the cookie from in your browser, you won't see the prompt on sub-sites, well at least for a month, so unless on the other hosts this gets fixed/changed or the cookie expires, you can use that as a workaround

One final point, I have nothing directly against Silverlight (I have concerns about it, but I talked about those last year). I am just trying to keep a development VM clean from unwanted software, to get as close as possible to a known deployment target, and Silverlight is not on the manifest. Obviously, just installing it is the most permanent workaround, and I have had the beta's installed on OS X for a long time. Read my other Silverlight posts