There is a great deal of interest and concern in where Silverlight is going next, so much so that in most of the conversations seen across developer communities, the question has turned to whether there even will be a next round for Silverlight.
Some have said that it does not matter, that Silverlight is a powerful tool and serves a great purpose. It has become very popular in areas such as media streaming and Windows Phone development, for example. The logic for this position goes that Microsoft needs to keep the problem that Silverlight solves solved.
Maybe in this case we can say that the solution is in the eye of the beholder, but now, even though most of the facts of the case have been revealed since the controversy started last year, there is still a great deal of disagreement as to what it all means for developers that have elected to plunge into using Silverlight and those thinking of using it for upcoming projects.
To untie this knot, I talked to several enterprise development experts, including Billy Hollis, co-owner of Next Version Systems and author of Pluralsight’s new course on user-experience design. I asked him what he would advise someone who was on the fence about building a solution with Silverlight. He said that he often hears this question, but in his experience, what people are really asking for is what the safe choice is from among the many technology choices available for developers.
For a short answer, Hollis offered that there is not a safe choice because the game is rapidly changing, especially among presentation technologies. He went on to explain that with cloud, touch and numerous other new technologies disrupting the development ecosystem, “no one can predict what things will look like even five years down the road.”
The upshot of this is we must seek to use what works, and we will be best served if we follow some rules that insulate solutions from the changes in the landscape. We will go into some of those strategies later in this article, and endeavor to take some of the hype out of this controversy. The scariest aspect could well be that the crazy pace that we have tried to survive at for the last 20 years may actually be accelerating in precisely the places that will make life hardest for those that have to make decisions about which technologies to use.
Why Silverlight matters
Silverlight was initially introduced in 2007 to serve as Microsoft’s rich Internet application (RIA) platform, and it eventually expanded into niches beyond building RIAs for corporate line-of-business solutions. It has become popular for streaming media for everything from technical training to the Olympics. Finding this special niche has also helped to shape the nature of new features that have evolved in Silverlight.
From the very beginning, Silverlight was to be a strategic play to fill a void in Microsoft’s coverage of developer technology needs. Silverlight introduced Microsoft’s answer to a very real problem that developers had to choose between two extremes, namely native client development or Web development.