Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Consumerization of IT and Silverlight Line of Business

Yesterday I had the opportunity to present a demo at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Los Angeles. The session was called "Profiting from the Consumerization of IT with Windows Devices and Windows 7 Enterprise." The focus was on how consumer-driven trends impact the enterprise and ways to work with, rather than against, that trend to create successes.

In recent months there were two events that were perceived as blows to the success of Silverlight at large. The first was the announcement that it would not be supported on the iPhone. While this caused a lot of concern and grief, it did not bother me because I knew that the phone is a different target and it would never make sense to run the same application "out of the box" on that space. Even when the Windows Phone 7 was announced along with the support of Silverlight, developers quickly realized that while there are many assets they can share between projects that target the desktop, slate, and the phone, there is still a substantial bit of development specifically targeted to the smaller form factor of the phone.

The bigger trend was when the iPad exploded into popularity. This resulted in a typical scenario: CEO purchases iPad, loves it, brings it into the office and asks, "Why can't all of our applications run on this thing?" and then IT scrambles to rewrite everything using HTML5. Of course, they quickly found that path wasn't easy, either, and although they could produce content for the iPad using HTML5, that application was not the same application they'd be using for other targets.

Our company recently completed a project for Rooms to Go. This what I was asked to demo on stage to present our solution and why it is so important in this space. The company sells furniture with packaged deals that allow you to literally "buy the room." The problem they were solving was a customer experience issue. Sales would engage with a customer on the floor, but if the customer wanted more information about a package, wanted to estimate delivery costs or even just share information, the salesperson had to break away, locate a kiosk, and log in there. It was a very disruptive process.

Rooms to Go wanted something they could carry with them and use on the floor to engage with the customer without having to break away. They wanted it to be easy and intuitive to minimize disruption with training and learning curves. They wanted something rugged so that if it happened to get dropped on the floor (or have something spilled on it) it could keep on running (can you imagine dropping an iPad on the floor?).

The device they went with is the Motion Computing CL900 and I'll let you visit the link for all of the statistics. Why did they go this route, as opposed to some of the other popular devices?

  • They needed something that had a security story. There is no security story around many of the other consumer devices. This runs Windows 7 and integrates with Active Directory, honors group policies and interfaces with all of their existing infrastructure.
  • They wanted to run their legacy applications. One distinct difference between Windows tablets and other consumer products is that they run the full Windows operating system and are not just a "phone on a slate" that doesn't make calls. This means it was easy for them to load their existing apps right on the tablet and still use them even if they weren't built with "touch first" in mind.
  • They wanted to leverage existing mindshare. By building the application in Silverlight they were able to stick with a development environment (Visual Studio) and a language (C#) they were familiar with. Our team worked shoulder to shoulder with theirs to deliver the product and ensure they understood the framework and owned the code. The application used my Jounce MEF and MVVM framework for Silverlight.

There are many more facets to the story that you can learn about in the case study and by watching the video (here is a direct link.)

If you are a Silverlight developer and are shaking in your boots over recent announcements, I wouldn't be. While the future is still not clear and we won't know much more until the BUILD conference still weeks away, keep in mind this scenario and the fact that companies want to have an engaging, interactive, .NET and Windows based experience they can deliver, and the demand for Silverlight line of business is only growing. It will only increase in my opinion with the release of version 5. With the number of companies that are still on Windows XP it would take 300,000 upgrades a day to convert them to Windows 7 before end of support ... and that means regardless of the Windows 8 story, there is still going to be a strong platform and support base for delivering Silverlight line of business applications.

The slate is the perfect example of a use case for Silverlight Line of Business. I'll be delivering a talk about developing for slate using Silverlight at reMIX South in the Atlanta area on August 6th. I'll cover how we were able to use existing frameworks and libraries like the LightTouch library to quickly develop a comprehensive solution that solved a real world problem. I hope to see you there. If there is nothing else you take away from this, hopefully I've demonstrated the real world demand and application of solutions for line of business applications written in Silverlight. Jeremy Likness


  1. Great post!
    It is exactly what I think about Silverlight and LOB application. Silverlight is not dead and it's the most powerfull platform for LOB applications now.
    About iPad - it is a toy and can not be used for business until everything becomes HTML5 (not in next 3-5,10 years).

  2. This was a great post with plenty of facts and evidence.

  3. This is nice, but to be fair, the decision to do this project was probably made before all of the shifting by Microsoft.

    I don't have the fear that Microsoft will hurt its customers, but the new shift is obviously one designed to make sure the AppStore/Hub model works.

    You can't have people being able to EASILY go around that model by using Flash or Silverlight.

    As others have pointed out, even Windows Phone 7 won't do Silverlight. MS wants to keep all the devs on the reservation!

  4. Microsoft is not going to make enterprise customers buy their own applications back through an App Store. That is the consumer model and this is enterprise-focused. Windows Phone 7 *IS* Silverlight, so it does do it ... the fact it doesn't support embedded XAPs in web pages is about a lot more than app stores.

  5. Can you elaborate a bit more on the performance and daily use experiance of the tablet?
    Looks really good!


  6. Nice post, but fails to penetrate the heart of the matter: How does one respond to the CEO who wants everything to work on his iPad? Personally, I hate iPad and all things Apple and liken all the fanbois to religious zealots and I hate HTML even more. The fact of the matter is however that there is, unfortunately, a demand for plain HTML apps because of the irrational success of the various iDevices and I fear that the Silverlight platform is basically doomed because of it. Better sharpen up your Javascript skills or become a farmer; frankly, the latter option is preferable.

  7. You're talking about an entirely different market. If the CEO of ACME Corp. wants an iPad application, that's fine. They're not going to be on the salesroom floor and if they are, probably won't want to pass their fragile iPad around. For them either HTML5 applications showing the roll-up of sales or summary data from the stores makes perfect sense ... or if they want something more interactive, something written in native Objective-C.

    It certainly doesn't portend the doom of Silverlight. I hear a lot of people saying "Silverlight is doomed" but the reality is I see a lot of business applications being written in Silverlight and a lot of businesses realizing making an online magazine in HTML5 is fine but writing a real business application still requires native tools and platforms.