What’s going on Microsoft? Silverlight, HTML 5?

9 11 2010

It’s amazing how the press get hold of something, twist it a little and come up with something that simply isn’t true. Is it because they simply latch onto sound bites, or because they don’t actually understand the technology (or technologies) they talk about? They don’t understand the development community and how development works? Or could it be a case of all of the above? (I am thinking all of the above for many of them)

I have now read numerous blogs, press releases etc that claim Microsoft is abandoning Silverlight. That Silverlight will no longer be used on the PC or MAC, over the web etc, just on mobile phones…This simply isn’t true, and to be frank is somewhat of an annoyance.

Yes it is true that Microsoft’s server and tools capo Bob Muglia stated that HTML 5 will become the company’s main focus for online web applications now. (Though he didn’t help the cause in the way he made his statement). But what does that actually mean. It doesn’t mean Silverlight is to be abandoned at all, it was never meant to replace HTML 5, and it wasn’t meant just to plug the gaps that HTML and HTML 5 have left. It isn’t just Microsoft’s response to Flash either, that is seeing Silverlight in a very simplistic view, almost narrow minded, and indicates you don’t know what Silverlight is…

Silverlight is a different presentation layer for .NET applications. It allows developers to deliver highly interactive, rich and powerful applications, not just stream some video, present some pretty animation etc. You should think of Silverlight as a different front end for .NET. Of which you have already so many choices, such as HTML via ASP.NET, typical forms through .NET, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) etc etc.

So what about the statement regarding HTML 5 for web applications? Well, Microsoft are concentrating on getting HTML 5 right, this includes IE (by the way IE9 has been shown to be the most compliant HTML 5 browser out there, ahead of FireFox, Chrome and Safari), and within its development studios (visual studio, web studio etc). To do this, resource no doubt will have to be more focused on this area for the time being…So resource will move away from Silverlight, but Silverlight doesn’t need such a large investment or resource now, since it has matured and become a full fledge part of the .NET family.

HTML 5 support

HTML is the interface to websites and web applications, and it seems to me that the press and many blog writers don’t understand this. Do they realise that ASP.NET v4 delivers HTML to a web browser? So Microsoft concentrating on HTML 5 is expected. ASP.NET (no matter your flavour of it) will need to have the capabilities to deliver HTML 5 web applications, so Microsoft needs to concentrate on this. But does this mean they are ditching Silverlight, no of course not. Did the creation of Silverlight mean Microsoft walked away from HTML presented content with ASP? Did it mean we no longer have win forms of WPF? No, of course not….Yet Microsoft were not exactly moving these along rapidly were they…

No Silverlight 5 for the moment

Some are pointing that they haven’t seen any indication of when Silverlight 5 will be available. All I can say to that is, “How many versions do you expect?” The complete .NET platform is only at v4.0. Silverlight has gone through a rapid development and period of evolution, moving quickly from v1.0, through to v4.0 now (in just over 2 years!). The latest version of Silverlight brings it in line with the .NET family, so Silverlight needed to go through a rapid development phase to catch up, it was a long way behind…

Silverlight as Windows Mobile 7 development platform

Yes, Silverlight is the development platform for Windows 7, and that’s great news to the development community. The fact that Silverlight development focus at the moment is being switched to the mobile platform is again, not surprising. After all, Silverlight has gone through rapid development on the computer. Microsoft has worked hard on tools, templates etc for developers to be able to create powerful desktop (OOB) and RIAs using Silverlight. So, it now needs to do the same for the mobile platform. Microsoft need to make it as easy as possible for mobile developers to quickly deliver powerful mobile applications, so concentrating on Silverlight tools for mobile is obvious…

Yet again I feel the press, and bloggers, don’t understand the importance of this. Silverlight is Silverlight, on the mobile and or on the web, it is still the Silverlight technology, the only difference is on the mobile, we have to follow some stricter rules about our UI and we get different tools and templates to use. Why? Well we have restricted UI space, and we need to be able to allow the user to bring up the keyboard etc etc. It isn’t an alien world, Silverlight on the mobile to developers. It is Silverlight. Just like the managed code behind in Silverlight is not alien .NET, rather it is .NET. This means developers can develop applications for multiple platforms, PC, Mac, Phone, without leaving visual studio, without learning new techniques, without learning new syntax etc. This is great, and because of this Microsoft maximises the number of developers who potentially can develop for the desktop, web and mobile…..

Withering Silverlight? Don’t be stupid…

Well obviously no…Silverlight simply won’t be going through so many quick iterations as it is now in-line with the .NET family. Microsoft are now concentrating on Silverlight mobile templates and tools and ensuring the mobile world for Silverlight developers is just as rich as it can be on your PC.

Concentrating on HTML 5 is a good thing, Microsoft has always been committed to HTML 5 and as HTML 5 slowly gets closer, Microsoft needs and wants to be at the forefront. Web applications will be delivered in HTML 5, that has always been the case. Just like ASP.NET web applications deliver HTML 4 at the moment. Silverlight will still be used on the web to plug gaps HTML 5 cannot fill, it will still be used (and will be more and more so) in an OOB (out of browser) state, effectively providing desktop powerful applications over the web and no doubt will continue to grow.

Silverlight is now a full part of the .NET family, it has caught up, and the .NET family will continue to be the core Microsoft technology for all devices…

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Bing Maps getting Silverlight

4 12 2009

Well it had to be just a matter of time before Bing Maps started using Silverlight to deliver the richest mapping experience on the web. Since the start of November I have been playing around with the Silverlight Bing Maps control which far out-performs the AJAX control and for me the HTML version on the actual Bing website.

The payoff

Microsoft's Bing

Microsoft's Bing

Well for the end user, the Silverlight experience is far smoother and allows you greater control. For example zooming into an area on the map using the wheel of your mouse is a nice touch, but the app renders smoothly. In addition you can mesh together traditional map views with aerial photos. There are also nice features such as the street side walker – which currently isn’t available in that many areas, but it allowed me to jump into the map and then walk around parts of the world I have never seen (well visited now….).

With the Silverlight version, everything just feels so much more professional, it’s a real jump forward in terms of the functionality that is capable and the experience it provides the end user. Why not see for yourself, you will need to have Silverlight installed. http://www.bing.com/maps/explore/ NB If you don’t have Silverlight installed I suggest you get it asap.

Microsoft has also followed on a trend of offering “app stores”. A new application gallery will be available allowing developers to include their own information on a map.

The biggest pay off though is the capabilities this provides to other developers and websites that want to use mapping technology. I have already seen a number of demonstrations showing how you can overlay / highlight “areas” within a map. One great demonstration shows the New York marathon route, it not only shows you this route and the “area” covered on the Bing map, but also shows runners moving along the route – comparing their relative times etc….Not bad….

The .NET framework…

I have to say that I like the way Microsoft is going, building everything on the .NET framework or a subset of it. It allows more powerful applications to be built and integrated with each other. This is another great example – Silverlight, which is a subset of .NET with a WPF subset as a presentation layer, combined with the Microsoft Live web services (again delivered in .NET) delivering a feature rich experience for users. More importantly though, working in this way provides the development community with the tools they require to take things further.

By combining the Silverlight Bing Map control with the Microsoft Live web services, it is now a quick and rather simple(ish) task for any .NET developer to deliver powerful mapping / mapped based services to clients that look and perform great.





Silverlight EPOS?

14 09 2009

Now this maybe a little left field, but I have been talking to some EPOS people who have been asking if we can expect EPOS systems delivered in Silverlight. Funny enough, I have also seen people searching my own blog on this subject…

So what is the chances? To my knowledge there isn’t anyone attempting this, and there are a number of reasons why not. I have to say the chances of getting a Silverlight EPOS system are at best, very slim.

Why not?

Many EPOS systems (especially the entry level solutions) are built to work and run a physical till (cash draw and receipt printer). EPOS systems are often a single install, with your back office staff basically having the same software installed that will drive your front office point of sale terminal (till). To drive a POS terminal, the software has to interact with drivers that are actually installed on the physical machine.

Silverlight in essence is a web based technology, and as such cannot interact with drivers etc on the host PC. This is purely due to security. If you are not technical and reading this, just think, if a website could easily take control of programs and drivers on your PC, what sort of damage could a malicious hacker / developer do?

Wait, don’t get turned off just yet…

Though Silverlight couldn’t be used to drive a POS terminal, .NET applications built using WPF could, and these look and feel just like Silverlight applications. I know this means a client installation (which Silverlight avoids) however, on the POS you have to have a number of drivers and applications installed in any case.

Don’t think though that you have to use traditional thick client applications for your back office staff. Though most EPOS systems use the same software for front and back office (especially smaller solutions) it doesn’t mean this has to be the case. A division of my own company, workFile EPOS, delivers a thick client POS application, written in .NET, but back office users use the system delivered through a browser (thin client), removing any requirements for installations in the back office or indeed (if required) machines at home for home use.

EPOS systems that split front and back office functions can easily provide more flexibility, in terms of both user experiences administration flexibility. At workFile EPOS we have been looking to replace a number of web pages with pages using Silverlight to deliver a richer experience. The thin client sales agent is a prime example, delivering a “sales” interface without the need to drive a till or any hardware.

Silverlight EPOS is go…

In conclusion, yeap you can have a Silverlight EPOS solution. The chances of you seeing one shortly though are slim, and there is no chance of you using Silverlight to deliver a POS terminal. Also think that many EPOS systems were written many many moons ago and still don’t really take advantage of thin client technology or in some cases newer versions of Windows (I have seen many that still run on DOS!)

But, all this being said, some EPOS providers out there, like workFile EPOS, have the potential to use Silverlight to deliver EPOS back office functions, which bring together all the benefits of EPOS with those of rich end user experiences. If the demand is out there, no doubt Silverlight will be used for back office EPOS systems and WPF for the POS terminal experience. We shall see…