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Microsoft Silverlight: Technically Still Viable

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Some say the writing on the wall suggests Silverlight is dead and HTML5 reigns supreme, but have they read the fine print too?

Microsoft Silverlight is a technology that was originally built to compete with Flash, but never caught on with mainstream web developers as much.  However, because of the existing Microsoft code base and the number of web and application developers familiar with with the underlying technologies, it soon outpaced Flash as the preferred form of interactive development when interfacing with Microsoft products.  This was in part because it allowed significantly more interaction between Microsoft objects, but also because of the elegance of the suite and interoperability it offered across disciplines.

Is This What We've Become

Has Microsoft Silverlight become a dinosaur, or is it still viable?

From a development perspective, Silverlight rounded out missing elements that Flash lacked or required third party tools to accomplish.  While it never overtook Flash, it quickly earned it’s place in a market that Flash had previously dominated.  Because many Silverlight developers were also application programmers, many began producing very complex sites and interactions.  An excellent example of the power of Silverlight can be seen on a web application developed by the Viscom Software Company.  They took Silverlight to the limits of its web capabilities, producing an amazing array of free online photo editing tools.

Tools like these gave rise to a Silverlight development community that, while less broad than the Flash community, had far more application developers as a percentage of its membership.  As such they were able to produce a much greater range of tools within the Microsoft ecosystem, without the need for third party dependencies.  However, when the iPhone was released, there was an exodus of both users and developers from Flash to HTML5 that also impacted Silverlight.

During this period, Microsoft remained relatively silent on the subject of future releases and updates to Silverlight, prompting speculation that it was abandoning the application.  Internally quite the opposite happened, with Microsoft releasing a detailed article describing the application as a tool, and committing to Silverlight support through the year 2021, which is an eternity in terms of application support – especially if the application wasn’t going to be receiving further development.

Further fuelling rumors is an article from ZDNet suggesting that a release of Silverlight 6 is scheduled for 2014.  For its part Microsoft has not confirmed nor denied the information.  Rather, it has remained silent, building Windows 8 with more of a focus on HTML5 and JavaScript, except in those areas where Silverlight outperforms them.  Further complicating the matter, the latest releases of Internet Explorer have adopted HTML5 – except where Microsoft has determined that Silverlight will perform the task more efficiently, in which case Silverlight remains the preferred tool.

While no technology remains viable forever, users have remained dedicated to the platform.  As demonstrated by Viscom (linked above), there are powerful browser-based tools the application continues to make possible.  The fact that the developer community continues to produce these applications is a strong indication that Silverlight will remain a viable solution for application development for years to come.

Image Credits:
Feature Image: ‘in the rye
Article Image: ‘Dino
Found On: flickrcc.net

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About Henry Buell

A world traveled analyst, Henry has lived through political upheaval, revolutions, and war. He writes from a different perspective, with a passion for life, tempered by experience. More information can be found on Henry Buell's website.
  • Martin Parenteau

    I just found your article. Let’s hope that Silverlight can stay alive for several more years. I am developing and maintaining a Silverlight application that is vital for my company; and I see no valid replacement for it, should it become non available on Windows or Mac.

  • Thanks for the comments Martin. I agree, and Silverlight actually does a number of things more easily than other tools, so I’m with you in hoping that it will stick around a while.

  • Mark

    Very well put Henry. As primarily a very seasoned “application developer” used to large scale projects, the idea of going back in time to use HTML+Javascript rather than C#+XAML, to try and develop “web applications” is not only depressing, it’s impractical.

    Also, why on earth has HTML *AND* Javascript become the new god? If we were to start designing a cross-platform browser client-side run-time from scratch it would look more like Silverlight than HTML+Javascript… so why is ‘everyone’ (it seems) so excited about spending x10-x20 times more effort, with a fragmented and poor set of developer tools to generate a underperforming application that doesn’t even come close to what we had with apps. written under Windows 3.1!?

    I honest, don’t get it.

    Please, for the love of developer sanity I hope there is some truth in this:


    • Thanks for the positive comments and great link Mark.

      I think that there is an infatuation with ‘free’ tools, like HTML and JS, that the growing number of users in the third world are artificially inflating. Certainly there is some very cool stuff you can do with HTML5 – but I completely agree with you that those tools are like going back in time.

      I could light a fire with two sticks (HTML5 and JS), but why would I do that when I could just use some kerosene and a lighter (modern developer tools)? Couldn’t agree with you more. I think Silverlight is here to stay.

  • Ronnie

    Anyone who invested in learning XAML, whether Silverlight or WPF, would understand the power behind the paradigm. It was a sad day when Microsoft announced the death of Silverlight for a change in direction.

    Yesterday I found this project (http://fayde.wsick.com/home.aspx) it is implementing XAML using Javascript rendering it on the HTML5 canvas control. I know, at first I was, WTF… but then I downloaded the project (it is open source) and started experimenting – it is not complete and require more community involvement – but man! my mind was blown. I tested a simple XAML login and tile page I created using copy/paste XAML from my Silverlight app with a new Typescript code behind (similar to C#), using browserstack… WOW!!!

    To have XAML running in almost 100% of the environments, including IPhone, Android, Mac was just mind blowing.

    So go there and see for yourself… http://fayde.wsick.com/home.aspx