Friday, December 9, 2011

Silverlight 5 Released: Myth vs. Fact

It is very exciting to see the release of Silverlight 5 today, despite all of the rumors flying around the Web. Read the original release announcement from the Silverlight Team here. This is proof positive the team made a commitment to release a new version by the end of the year and stuck to it. This release offers major functionality over prior releases and is something I believe has the potential to revolutionize development for line of business applications, or I wouldn't be writing a book about it. You can download the release here (note that sometimes the servers may take time to synchronize, so if you are not seeing the link, wait a little awhile and refresh ... it will eventually appear for you).

My blog has been covering this for quite some time so I thought it would make sense to recap the coverage I've already provided as well as address some myths vs. facts about this release.

First, a summary of articles I've posted that relate to Silverlight 5:

I will also be releasing a new version of my Jounce MVVM+MEF Framework that fully supports the new capabilities of Silverlight 5 over the next few weeks. You can download the latest source to preview this functionality and I'll consolidate into a 2.0 release probably right after the holidays.

Let's tackle some myths:

Myth: Silverlight is dead.

Fact: Silverlight 5 has just been released. The team has been working hard to implement new features and address issues uncovered through internal and external builds like the beta and release candidates. This release contains significant functionality that make it an ideal platform for building Line of Business applications. Microsoft has also promised to support this version through 2021. That's quite a bit of life!

Myth: Silverlight has no Future.

Fact: We're not sure if Silverlight will have a future release, as Microsoft has not formally addressed this and that is definitely a possibility. That doesn't mean it doesn't have a future. There are plenty of cases where the current version will meet the demands of users sufficiently to warrant future development. The next IDE slated for release, Visual Studio 11, has Silverlight support so the tools are not going away any time soon. Silverlight runs perfectly fine on the new Windows 8 desktop so applications developed using this version will not be obsolete when users move to Windows 8, although by all predictions Windows 7 is going to be around for a long, long time. The biggest enemy of Silverlight right now is not capability nor support, but speculation and rumor.

Myth: The Silverlight team gave up on Mac OSX, this release is for Windows/Internet Explorer only.

Fact: Silverlight 5 is fully supported on Mac OSX and across multiple browsers. The new 3D features rely on DirectX and therefore are not available on the Mac OSX platform, and p/Invoke/COM obviously does not make sense because there is no counterpart. All of the core features including interactivity, printing, etc. are all fully supported as demonstrated by the release candidate (RC). You can see the full list of supported browsers and platforms here.

Myth: Silverlight is no longer the optimal choice for platform reach

Fact: I believe this to be true when you extend reach to smartphones. For desktop applications that will traditionally run on Mac OSX, Windows, and Linux, I still see Silverlight 5 as the viable option for the first two. Obviously lack of Linux support rules that out but I have not found that to be an issue for line of business applications. Most businesses are still putting their heavy applications on Windows with a smaller percentage on Mac OSX and Silverlight provides phenomenal capabilities to build the application once and have it run on both platforms, even out-of-browser in occassionally disconnected scenarios. Silverlight is only a viable target for smartphones on the Windows Phone 7 platform. I don't believe this removes Silverlight as a player as it depends on the level of native touch you want for your application. A high-touch application will likely require developing with Silverlight for Windows Phone, Objective-C for iOS devices and Java for Android unless you are using a tool that provides multi-targeting like the Mono suite. On the other hand, if you can get away with less native touch and functionality, HTML5 is certainly a good option for building a mobile footprint once and having it function consistently across those surfaces. Keep in mind however that this does not mean you can build it once and have it run fine on your desktop targets - you'll still be developing different screens. The ability of Silverlight to connect to existing services like REST and WCF end points still makes it a very viable option for the desktop presentation layer even if the mobile footprints are written using an HTML5-based solution.


It's out, it's loaded with features, and it still has plenty of life left in it. Go out and grab the latest version of Silverlight and see for yourself! I'm interested in all comments and feedback below. Thanks!

Jeremy Likness