Thursday, November 4, 2010

What’s the fuss around Silverlight about?

Since day one of PDC10 there has been a lot of press attention for what appears to be a change in strategy for Microsoft around Silverlight. As I’ve gotten several questions from people concerning the stories published by several respectable sources and how this would impact the business, I decided to write down my take on this.

The PDC10 debacle

So what are people on about? It basically comes down to two things. One is the “lack” of attention for Silverlight on the PDC10. The other is Microsoft announcing that they completely back HTML5. It was elaborated on by saying that there has been a shift in the strategy around platform independent web technology. Also, because there has not been an announcement on Silverlight 5, people are scared into believing there will not be a Silverlight 5.

Most people interpreted this by concluding that Microsoft will limit their investments in Silverlight to the Windows Phone platform. Let’s assume they are right in their conclusion. If that is true, then it’s devastating for all those developers and companies who have invested heavily in Silverlight in the past years.

My analysis on Silverlight

So how do I look at this? Well, there is a number of things I see differently from most people. Let’s have a look at some of those.

HTML5 vs Silverlight

A lot of people see HTML5 and think it replaces Silverlight for the browser completely. Having worked with both HTML4 and Silverlight and having looked into what HTML5 brings to the table so far (it’s not done yet), I have to disagree.

First of all most people that make this statement think of Silverlight as a platform for media and games, similar to Flash. However there is a lot more to Silverlight. For one it is a lot better suited for Line Of Business (LOB) applications. Another major advantage is that everything works and looks exactly the same in different browsers and on the desktop.

Another major advantage about using Silverlight for web developemt is that you can use one programming language across different tiers, complimented by one markup language. Compare that to HTML and you immediately spot the problem. Not only do you need HTML for markup, you need CSS for styling and Javascript for client interaction. To top it all off you need some server side language to work with data. That’s four languages for something that Silverlight does with two languages. Are the decision makers of IT-world paying attention? Less is definitely more in this case.

Because of all this, and a great IDE in the Visual Studio / Blend combination, productivity in Silverlight is much higher and more business logic focused than the classic web application. This allows developers to provide more value more quickly, making more money for the companies and their customers.

But Microsoft has given up on Silverlight, right??

Well, did they? Let’s look at some facts here.

First of all this statement is all based on Microsoft communicating their support for HTML as the only true platform independent technology. People think that this is change in strategy, but in fact it’s not. Let’s face it, that is just reality. The downside on Silverlight is that there is no complete support for all platforms. I’m not only talking about Linux here. It’s also about a lot of mobile platforms. And it’s hardly realistic to expect to get that support for all these platforms. It’s not going to be cost effective to do so. In my book, this statement is stating the obvious and it would be stupid to say anything else.

But will Microsoft stop investing heavily Silverlight because of HTML5? I don’t think so. First of all HTML5 is far from complete. It will take at least another ten years to make it to the main stream in it’s full glory. Second of all HTML5 will have trouble adapting, because it is a global standard and everyone wants to have their say about it. Silverlight doesn’t have this issue.

And then there is the business side of things. Microsoft has invested so heavily in Silverlight, it would not make sense for them to stop now. They have cranked out three major releases of Silverlight in the past two years, including tooling for Visual Studio and support in Blend. They have invested in the Silverlight Toolkit. They brought Silverlight to the Windows Phone platform. And recently they introduced Visual Studio LightSwitch, which can generate complete Silverlight applications. Really, they have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Silverlight, with great success as a result. And frankly, there is no reason for them to stop doing so, for all of the reasons mentioned before. As long as it keeps selling software for them, they’ll keep working on it.


So we can conclude that Microsoft will not stop pushing Silverlight forward in the foreseeable future. However, it is up to decision makers to stick with the facts and not go with the press buzz, or they will be investing in the wrong technologies, loosing a lot of money in the process. And it’s up to developers to stand by their choice of technology. There really is no need to suddenly change anything.

Just remind yourselves, what made you choose Silverlight as a platform in the first place? Exactly.


  1. I read a lot of reports and tweets around the PDC Silverlight debacle, but even with all the heat and anger I don't think I read a single one saying that there would not be a Silverlight 5. What makes you think that "people are scared into believing there will not be a Silverlight 5"?

  2. Hi Ian,

    Thanks for your question. It's not so much that there would be anyone saying there will not be a Silverlight 5. It's more that I hear a lot of people who interpreted all the chatter as that Microsoft will no longer target the browser with new Silverlight versions.
    The point I was trying to make, is that I don't understand why people are so angry, because they can just keep using Silverlight as they were before and Microsoft will keep supporting and investing in Silverlight for the browser.