Microsoft is set on Monday to unveil an internet technology to rival the Flash player, a piece of software made by Adobe that has become an ingredient in the success of video from YouTube and other online experiences.
The move will touch off a fight over a strategically important internet technology, echoing earlier battles Microsoft waged against the Netscape browser and RealNetworks’ media player, according to analysts.
Like Flash, Microsoft’s Silverlight player is a plug-in for web browsers, a software add-on that powers graphics and video.
Flash has been central to advances in web technology that have turned the static, text-based HTML pages of the early internet into a richer interactive experience.
That has made web-based applications an appealing alternative to software running on a PC, accelerating the shift to a computing architecture that threatens to weaken Microsoft’s grip.
For Microsoft, creating a rival to the Flash player was “hugely important” since this was set to become the user interface for web-based computing, said David Smith, an analyst at Gartner.
Jeffrey Hammond, an analyst at Forrester Research, added: “This is a battle for the next generation of eyeballs.”
Flash is present on virtually all PCs, and is shipped with many new mobile handsets.
YouTube’s decision to use the technology has added to its success: computer users whose machines do not already include the software are prompted to download it before watching a video.
In similar battles in the past, Microsoft fought back against early leaders such as Netscape and RealNetworks by integrating its own rival products tightly with its Windows operating system – a tactic that exposed it to attack by antitrust regulators.
The company did not plan to follow a similar approach with Silverlight, said Forest Key, a Microsoft executive.
Instead, it would count on creators of web video and other content to adopt the technology, prompting internet users to download it to their PCs and other devices when they wanted to view the content.
The player was designed to download in around 15 seconds, Mr Key said.
Monday’s announcement will include news of partnerships with content produces that will use Silverlight, including Major League Baseball and Netflix, which rents out videos over the internet.
A beta version of the software is due in the coming weeks.