Silverlight Has a Bright Future

Microsoft has been pretty mum on details when it comes to its internet plugin platform Silverlight. The software giant’s silence regarding the platform has many developers questioning Silverlight’s fate, as they wonder if their time spent on perfecting specific skills will eventually go to waste. Luckily for them, despite Microsoft’s relative silence, there are several factors pointing to a good future for Silverlight.

The first positive sign for the platform’s developers is the fact that Microsoft made Silverlight 5’s release candidate stage available at the beginning of this month.  This points to an official final release in the near future.  While Silverlight 5’s upcoming release is good news, Microsoft put a damper on it when it recently debuted Windows 8 and noted that it would favor HTML5 instead.  In addition, the company said that plugins would not be supported on Windows 8’s Metro version of Internet Explorer, leaving plugins such as Silverlight and Adobe Flash out in the cold.  Add in a strategy of avoiding any specific details regarding Silverlight’s future, and it is easy to see why so many developers are experiencing feelings of uncertainty.

Although Microsoft’s Silverlight-related silence is reason for worry, many within the industry believe that Silverlight is here to stay for a variety of reasons.  Rob Sanfilippo, an analyst with information source Directions on Microsoft, gave his reasoning for Silverlight’s strong future, stating: “I think Silverlight still has several years of life left. Windows 8 is at least a year away, and Windows 7 is a very stable OS that will be a standard for many more years.  Silverlight will also be supported in IE10 running in the desktop legacy mode on Windows 8.”

Several developers tend to agree with Sanfilippo’s prediction.  Tony Champion, a Silverlight developer with ChampionDS, a provider of applications in the oil and gas exploration industry, said, “Right now, we’re looking at about a year before Windows 8 is published and another year before it is adopted.”  Dennis Doomen of the Silverlight Cookbook open-source project offered a similar positive thought, stating, “I think Silverlight, for at least the next few years, will still exist.”

While the reasons for positive speculation on Silverlight’s future are solid, developers such as Champion are still clamoring for concrete details or plans from Microsoft on the platform.  Champion also added that many CTOs are getting restless over the avoidance of a true discussion on Silverlight.  Developer Billy Hollis expressed his concern on the topic, saying, “One thing we don’t know — and [that] makes decisions about what to do difficult — is will it be easy to migrate Silverlight apps into WinRT some day.”  The speculation is likely to continue, but upcoming events such as October’s Visual Studio Live conference in Redmond, California, ought to clear things up a bit.  Champion and Hollis will both hold Silverlight sessions during the conference, which should add to the platform’s minor momentum achieved during the recent Microsoft BUILD conference.

Beyond the upcoming release of Silverlight 5 and the gradual adoption time of Windows 8, Silverlight’s future also looks bright due to its prowess in the arena of line-of-business applications.  Doomen believes that such applications will not be replaced by those from Metro.  Doomen also predicts that Silverlight will reign over Metro on the desktop.  He said, “It’s still a wise choice for Silverlight developers to continue investing in that technology.”

Silverlight is noted for the benefits it brings to developers’ tables, and that reputation is set to continue when Silverlight 5 is finally released.  Doomen says Silverlight 5 will allow developers to become more productive and that the newest version should help close the existing gap that exists between it and Microsoft’s Windows Presentation Foundation technology.  Doomen lists 3D capabilities and video streaming as just a couple of Silverlight 5 highlights worth mentioning.

Champion offered his reasoning for remaining loyal to Silverlight, citing its support across platforms, its rich UI, and the way in which it separates the UI from the XAML front end.  “It allows you to design separately from your back-end code, and it’s been a big help in a lot of projects,” he added.  Hollis said such attributes make Silverlight an extremely appealing solution for health care applications, and that it offers functionality that is hard to achieve via HTML.  “It gives us the ability to provide interactions and visual feedback and stateful management of the UI,” said Hollis.

Sanfilippo claimed that the presence of Metro should not overshadow Silverlight, as both carry similar capabilities.  He said: “It’s important to note that the stack of technologies for Metro-style application development doesn’t obsolete Silverlight skills. Silverlight development consists of implementing XAML and code in C#, Visual Basic, or JavaScript, and all of these are supported for Metro application development.”

As you can see, while developers have reasons to be worried about the future of Silverlight, they have several reasons to believe that the platform will still be around in the near future.  It will be interesting to see if Microsoft decides to offer more peace of mind to Silverlight developers as time goes by, or if it continues to remain rather silent on the topic.

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