A lot of reactions started on Twitter this morning following the publication of the article titled “The Future of Silverlight” on the Silverlight Team Blog. One that caught my attention was written by Hadi Hariri:


After a few messages I realized that he was talking about Silverlight.

The problems Silverlight addresses

The official announcement says between the lines:

… Silverlight enables applications that deliver the kinds of rich experiences users want. We group these into three broad categories: premium media experiences, consumer apps and games, and business/enterprise apps.

Even in their own statement, they acknowledge that Silverlight is not for building web apps, but is to address very specific features that you don’t have in HTML/CSS/JS.

Most of the features of Silverlight are already included in HTML

But if you take a closer look to the features they list, and you compare them with what HTML (where with HTML I mean the sum of HTML, JavaScript and CSS) can do, you realize that, with the exception the adaptive streaming and other advanced video features, everything can be implemented in HTML: there is HW-accelerated canvas in HTML5 to fulfill the need of “power” of web games, there are already dozens of JavaScript UI control libraries, like jQuery UI to helps you build rich and “desktop-looking” web applications with very little effort, there is local storage and even a local database to store information locally in the browser, there are web workers to keep the application responsive during heavy computations, and much more will come with HTML5.

Some might argue that, even then, Silverlight has a more mature IDE and most developers don’t have a clue about programming in JavaScript and writing HTML+CSS. This only partially true: you reuse your C# skills and your knowledge of the CLR, but you need to learn all the pattern and best practices specific to this new paradigm, like MVVM, you have to deal with the “all is async” problem, and you probably don’t want to just drag and drop SL controls onto the developer surface, so even the IDE helps just a little here. And looking at it the other side of the coin, I’m pretty sure JavaScript oriented IDE and even more commercial control vendors will start making “d&d-able” controls to make JavaScript development as easy as desktop development.

Silverlight is more than the browser

The article finishes with that emphasis: “Silverlight is much more than a browser technology”. Sure it allows you to build “out of the browser” apps, even desktop apps, and now Windows Phone 7 apps. I think this is a great advantage for developers that build desktop apps, but I just don’t see Silverlight as a web application technology.

What is Silverlight really for?

If you asked me where I would use Silverlight I’d answer:

  • To build desktop applications
  • To build Windows Phone 7 native applications
  • And to build islands of interactivity of web applications, where the current “simpler and more standard” technologies are not enough, like in media applications.

Andrew Tokeley wrote a very nice post that goes into the details of when you need to use Silverlight instead of HTML/JS/CSS.

I think this is also how Microsoft should market it: a technology that allows you to create rich “web-looking” applications on the desktop, complex video components for the web , and to reuse the same skills to build native mobile applications for Windows Phone 7. But they should stop comparing Silverlight to HTML5, they are complementary technologies, not competing technologies.

What are your opinions on this topic? Please share them on the comments.