Silverlight is the future but the future isn’t Silverlight

Rockford Lhotka – Why Silverlight is the future

I was going to argue against Silverlight being the future, but yesterday my reserved copy of “Beginning Silverlight 2:” came in at the library and my copy of “Silverlight 2 in Action” arrived in the mail. So maybe the Colossal Cosmic Anvil of Fate is dropping on my head and telling me something.

I don’t think that in 5 years, every web developer will be programming in Silverlight or Flash. What I think is going to happen is that the web browsers are going to evolve and include more Silverlight/Flash like features. We already see that happening with isolated storage in FireFox and IE8. FireFox already has a rich network of extensions that allow developers to enhance services in many different ways, Google Chrome has released their draft extension specifications. IE8 and Safari still have a way to go, writing extensions for either is a non-trivial exercise.

There’s a reason that developers haven’t written these types of RIA’s using Flash for the past 10 years even though it has been possible. It’s not the lack of tooling, it’s the plugin. Even though the Flash plugin is a small enough download and easy to install, in my experience developers have been hesitant to build an application that is dependent upon a plugin. I don’t think that will change with Silverlight, even if Microsoft ships it in Windows out of the box or includes it as a mandatory update in Windows Update, there will be IT departments that either will disable it or won’t keep it up to date.

What do you think will happen?

  • Slav

    I don’t think it’s a problem that my app depends on Silverlight plugin – it’s like depending on .Net Framework (you just put it as a requirement and they have to install it).

    btw. check out source of any mid size Flash application and you will know why it was not done in Flash ;-)

  • http://www.tobinharris.com/blog Tobin Harris

    I agree with that. Coding to a plugin feels very much feels like it should be the Plan B for most applications. Use it where HTML + Ajax fail to solve your problems.

    I fear the day where we start writing entire sites in compiled Flash or Silverlight again. Oh wait, some poeple are actually doing that :)

  • JRodgers

    Having an application depend on Flash or Silverlight is in many cases preferable to depending on a specific version of a web browser – the installation barrier being so much lower and the massive cost in developer time to special-case the application code itself just disappears. As HTML 5 approaches, these advantages will become somewhat more visible.

    The case of coding to a browser extension similarly creates the need to write and maintain for the browser, once each for FF,IE,Safari etc…

    The plugin that can support these browsers and their mobile versions will have a significant place in the future of web applications.

  • Ryan Stewart

    Wait, wait, wait. What kinds of apps are you talking about when you say “these types of RIAs”? I’d argue that the apps built in Flash/Flex are pretty sophisticated. Whether it’s Picnik (http://www.picnik.com) and Aviary (http://aviary.com) or apps like Blist (http://blist.com) and those built on Salesforce/SAP/Oracle/Intuit, we’re talking about some desktop-replacement worthy apps.

    Clearly I’m biased, but I’m curious which apps you aren’t seeing that you’ve expected to as RIAs have taken off.

    =Ryan
    ryan@adobe.com

  • http://www.lazycoder.com Scott

    Slav: “Check out the source code” – Well, I think that’s because traditionally designers have been writing most of the code used in Flash/Flex applications. Once more traditional software developers start to use AS, you’ll see more complex and sophisticated architectures. I’ve already seen a couple of MVC frameworks for AS/Flex.

    JRodgers: Good point about writing an extension. I guess I was thinking ahead to a time when we might have a standard for extensions much like the Netscape Plugin “standard”.

    Ryan: I’m not saying that the platform doesn’t support writing sophisticated applications that could replace a comparable desktop application. Buzzword certainly proves that. It’s mostly that installing a plugin is still a barrier to entry. Which is why web developers have been pushing JavaScript frameworks and widgets for the past 10 years. It’s a lot easier to sell the boss/client on using JavaScript rather than telling them they have to make sure they are using the latest version of a plugin.

  • http://www.silverlighthack.com Bart Czernicki

    To say that I disagree is a major understatement. I think that Web 3.0 will be powered by RIAs. Not saying that it will be Silverlight/Flash/iPhone etc.

    This is what I see in 2-3 years (if Microsoft does it right). I go to MS’s new search brand (whatever that is). And type in “Redskins vs Giants score 11/19/2011″. I am returned with a 3D representation of interactive/media-rich Silverlight modules on a Silverlight canvas that are instantly interactive and run in parallel. These can be videos/live game cast streams/box scores/reports/instant fantasy links all of which are interactive and allow the human mind to comprehend all it at once spacially.

    These modules are “interconnected semantically”…As I am watching Clinton Portis on a highlight in a stream I notice on the top left that my stats Silverlight module begins to filter on his performance on the game. On another background module that is floating I notice an ESPN article scrolling to a paragraph about his performance.

    That is going to be Web 3.0. The days of google.com getting a bunch of stupid links that mean nothing and having to click through and paginate through a bunch of stuff manually will be GONE.

    Comparing technologies like Flash/Silverlight (while I am very biased) is night and day. Microsoft has a search component, cloud computing initiative, dominates the OS market, has a mobile OS/platform, includes a plethora of enterprise services (SharePoint, Analytical, PerformancePoint, SQL Server etc). Adobe can’t compete once all of this is tied together into one monster OS Cloud initiative (and done right).

  • http://sneal.net Sneal

    Plugins have their place as the right solution, but the majority of applications will be built upon new HTML and JScript standards/versions. Going forward, the majority of things must work on mobile platforms/standards compliant browsers. If its not standards compliant, its just ActiveX. OK, maybe not quite that bad.

    Since so much functionality has been pushed onto browsers via JScript, I wonder about source code just being out there in the public domain. Source code that is important to a company’s bottom line and competitive advantage.

    Then again what do I know, I never thought Google would make money with AdSense.

  • Asif

    I’d say that if silver light will be the essential part of Windows7 and one day IFF this will be provided to the every windows consumer shipped with windows then its not to compare with the Gears or FF Addons. Its really NOT that match then. I tell you that we can compare it with the FLASH in that case or Java Applets NOT with plugins and addons. Because a laymen doesn’t have accessible knowledge to reach the addons but they still watch Youtube. So if I develop something in the silver light I see my clients using right through the web page not through extra plugins.

    Here the question is that How many of my clients have the Silver Light available on the Browser. And here is what Microsoft needs to do something with windows shipment and updates.

    Thanks

  • J.C.Ködel

    There is no application whatsoever without a dependency… Java requires de Java VM, .net the .net framework, even C++ requires sometimes it’s runtime, depending how the program was built.

    Also, web applications still requires a major plugin to run: the web browser itself. Who among us never had problems with a application running well on FireFox and totally destroyed on IE 6? Some applications locks the user saying you NEED this specific version of IE or a major one, otherwise, you won’t run our app.

    Thinking about this, what is more easy to do? Keep 4, 5 browsers for our application (in both side, since web apps must adapt itself for each browser), and keep the browsers updated on client’s machine, low security (with toolbars, activex and other things that could compromise security) or simply install a browser plug-in that will run the exactly same copy of app, no matter wich browser or OS is running?

    If the plugin is a matter of concern for the IT admins, then those admins are WRONG… The computer world changes every second, and a good professional MUST be so up to date as it’s system, otherwise, him will fail, as much as his OS installation or its security will fail.

    RIA is not the future of web APPLICATIONS, it is its present! HTML 5 is in the future, RIA, with Silverlight or Adobe Flex/Flash Builder is NOW.

    There were some cases in my company that user’s won’t buy a Adobe Flex application. Same excuses: we will have to keep Flash Player up to date, there will be issues, we don’t know that, etc… As soon they see the application running, the phrase changed: “That’s AWSOME! We now want to make that, that and that application in this new technology!”

    People don’t change (Copyright Gregory House, he he he), because they are AFRAID of… If nothing changes, their days are safe, because everything will work the way works now… But, without change, the world does not go on…

    And, remember… unless you are programming in ANSI C without any kind of framework, you WILL BE DEPENDENT OF SOME TYPE OF VM/PlugIn/Library… That’s the way it works =)

  • Stephen Makumbi

    My biggest hurdle which I had to overcome during my first Silverlight apps was the fact that the entire app runs on the browser (unless you do some difficult wizardry). This means that all the objects in your app must first be loaded to clients browser, depending how heavy these are size-wise might mean the client may have to wait a long time, particularly more annoying on a slow internet line. This might discourage the user from return as often as they would have otherwise done.
    As I say there are ways of overcoming this limitation by downloading in parts, I have not come across one solution that is not cumbersome. MS needs to address this problem with a more streamlined solution.

  • Justin L

    building a GUI with table (now div) logic is like eating buttered peas with chopsticks: possible, but tedious and frustrating

    we had so much more control over application development in 1995 with systems like delphi than we do now with w3′s broken concepts

    the winning web platform is going to have to get certain things right:

    it’s going to have to provide a statically typed language with performance that isn’t far off of C and C++

    it’s going to have to provide a user interface system that is based on direct, simple, efficient logic that is readily accessible to programmers, with layperson layout schemes built on top of, rather than below the programmer’s view

    in short, how many desktop applications could you rewrite on a given platform without having to noticeably degrade the interface or performance?

    could you rewrite photoshop including its pixel buffer processing routines in javascript and pass it off for the real thing?

    silverlight won’t necessarily emerge as the winner, but it gets certain things very right, where w3 has so far failed miserably and flash is somewhere in between

  • http://www.itadapter.com Dmitriy / ITAdapter

    Microsoft is including SVG and HTML5 into IE9, along with Canvas and JIT-ed JavaScript. What this means is that ALL modern browsers will provide at least 90%+ of common features that would make Flash and Silverlight obsolete. YouTube has already started HTML5 “video” tag conversion and the process is unstoppable. Of course, Flash/SL have special “features” but really noone needs it for business applications, for shopping carts etc.. The future is definitely for HTML5/CSS3, JS, SVG. This platform is supported by VAST community on variety of platforms (how about running Silverlight of FreeBSD?) , so even Microsoft can not compete and that is why they are taking steps towards common standards like HTML5/CSS3. XAML will only survive on WPF/Windows-only applications, but future is after devices like smart phones, TVs (already they put YouTube and Skype in a TV) – it is obvious that the era of “fat computers” is over for mainstream user (not for developer/pro) and HTML delivers perfect rich platform for tablets, phones and PCs.
    And I would not invest in Silverlight anyway these days – I’d rather use Flash because Flash IS ALREADY implemented everywhere whereas Silverlight is not and most likely will never be. What is the point of using Silverlight? That it is easier to develop is C#/XAMl than in ActionS – agreed, but decisions are not made based on programmers convenience.

  • osman_sonic

    i want to build a website online shopping cart in silverlight for my final year project
    what do think silverlight is best for me?

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