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Silverlight RIA

For years there has been debate between applications deployed to the desktop and applications accessed via the web browser. Like political opponents the debate has been fierce and each side evolving over the years. Deployment complexity and richness of the user interface have always been two of the central battles fought. Each technology has made dramatic improvement including things like Click Once to ease deployment of Smart Client's to AJAX to make web applications more responsive and user friendly. Ongoing investments by Microsoft in WPF and ASP.NET AJAX 4 make clear that neither of these concepts will go away in the foreseeable future.

Silverlight however brings to the table a number of unifying concepts that both web and desktop developers should find appealing. Early on, Silverlight was thought by many to be simply a glorified Adobe Flash competitor offering a way to build a video player with the Microsoft tools. The reality, while it may well be a competitor in that space, its potential for being able to build rich business applications is really where it starts to get interesting. Additionally, as you consider the number of .NET capable developers already trained to build applications using similar Microsoft .NET related technologies it becomes clearer how Silverlight traction will begin to outpace competitors in the space at an amazing rate.

The time has arrived for anyone involved in business application architecture and related technology decisions to begin to engage in understanding the changing landscape. This would include not only ISVs, but also corporate developers building internal line of business applications. That's not saying everyone should move today to Silverlight, but should invest in understanding what changes are emerging. By making the investment in learning, you will be well positioned as the application user interface space continues to evolve over the next couple of years.

The introduction of Silverlight 3 beta makes real the commitment toward Silverlight being more than just a media player. Silverlight 3 introduces more business focused controls, more data and business logic connectivity as well as what could turn out to be the real “Click Once" deployment experience.

Silverlight 3 along with Microsoft .NET RIA Services extend the core connectivity plumbing to offer a richer way of extending business data and logic to the client application. As we will discuss in the future these services make it possible to share business logic as appropriate with the Silverlight client while keeping centralized business rules. This goes directly toward addressing and reducing complexity and developer productivity issues of these types of applications.

Traditionally, plug-ins like flash and Silverlight run in a web browser. As the lines between a true desktop application and a web application blur, so does the ability of Silverlight to run outside the browser. Live Mesh offered the first glimpse when it was announced at Microsoft PDC in October 2008 of a Silverlight application out of the browser with Mesh. Silverlight 3 continues that capability allowing a user to choose to install a Silverlight application to their start menu or desktop for easy access. When launched after saving the Silverlight application runs in a standalone process outside the browser window. Unlike competing technologies, this out of browser experience still allows the developer to use the same code and binaries both in and out of the browser. Using local storage resources and Silverlight's support to detect network availability these out of browser applications can also still run offline disconnected from the network. For many, this will be the unifying capability to further bring together desktop and web application development.

It's easy to jump to conclusions that ASP.NET is dead, or WPF is dead and it's important to understand how Silverlight fits in. The reality is, that all three technologies offer unique value propositions for developers building applications. While nobody has a crystal ball to predict the future we can look at how that plays out today. Today, ASP.NET offers applications the broadest deployment across a diverse set of clients. For broad consumer focused applications ASP.NET will continue to be the most viable option. Silverlight will start to be introduced more often in these applications as rich islands offering users specialized functionality. Developers will continue to build WPF applications to take advantage of having full access to desktop devices and the ability to have other desktop specific features. In some cases we will see lite versions of applications built on Silverlight, with full or more desktop feature enabled versions offered in WPF. In fact, frameworks and strategies are starting to emerge to improve the ability to build an application targeted for both Silverlight and WPF.

Join us as we continue to discuss and connect all these concepts into a clearer picture of how you build business applications using Silverlight. We will start with the basics of when to use Silverlight, move on to architecture concepts, and then steadily discuss the core building blocks that are required to put together a business application.

Today, we launched this blog, a new Twitter account and soon a new website that will be supporting a Silverlight 3 book focused on building business applications with Silverlight. Soon we will be releasing more details about the book and how you can get early access.  If you would like to get notified sign up for the book notification list here.

Posted on Wednesday, April 15, 2009 3:31 PM | Back to top

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