Morgan McCollough Bridge360

Is Silverlight Right for Your Development Team?

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by Morgan McCullough

Before making the choice to use Silverlight or any other development tool, it is always important to examine the requirements and trade-offs.

Because Silverlight is a Web technology that allows the creation of rich Internet applications, it is positioned to offer many of the same benefits as a traditional Web application. The application can be centrally located and managed, and because it is accessible over the Web, can be used through corporate firewalls and does not require installation on client machines. Also, there is less need to move data around between disparate systems and a single interface can greatly simplify data access and security management. In general, Web applications are more manageable, highly deployable, easier to secure, and very often less expensive overall.

In light of all this, the question becomes what Silverlight offers above and beyond a traditional Web application that uses a combination of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create the client experience. In a business environment where Web applications have become commonplace, the capabilities of Silverlight must be compelling enough to make it worth the cost of time and resources. As with any new technology, the reality is that working with it effectively takes an investment for the development team to become familiar with its capabilities and pitfalls. An existing development team may be able to produce a traditional Web application with many of the same features as a Silverlight application in a shorter amount of time if you factor in time lost to research and study.

It is possible (but not yet proven) that a team already familiar with the Silverlight environment could produce an application more quickly than if they were using a traditional Web application development stack, especially since developers would not have to spend time addressing cross-browser differences.

In general, Silverlight offers four key capabilities above and beyond the traditional Web application.

1. Rich UI Experience
First, Silverlight is designed with high-level UI components in mind, which also means there are several UI component libraries offered by a variety of vendors, e.g. Infragistics and Telerik. These UI controls offer a powerful and rich user experience in a relatively easy-to-use package. In addition to common UI components like text boxes, combo boxes, and date pickers, there are a variety of complex multimedia controls, grid controls, mapping controls, charting controls, calendars, and even a rich text box that offers similar features to WordPad in Windows.

Bringing these same capabilities to an HTML Web application would be a daunting task. These controls also hook into the standard data validation capabilities that come as part of Silverlight. In the world of HTML Web applications there are various validation strategies, but they have to be implemented as part of the application development.

2. Greater Freedom for Creating Client-Side Logic
Silverlight is a plug-in technology and it provides the application developer with a pared-down version of the .NET Common Language Runtime (CLR). This gives the application developer much greater freedom for creating client-side logic than they would have with traditional HTML and JavaScript, including multithreaded capability. It makes it possible, for example, to create a client-side feature to parse data from a file of the user’s choosing, load it into the interface, and validate the data all before communicating with the server at all. In this way, the application can act much more like a full client application without the complications that entails.

The Silverlight run-time executes application code in a security sandbox that only allows very limited privileges and does not have direct access to any user data or system-level operations. This could prove very valuable for large organizations that are subject to SOX compliance. Also, because Silverlight offers a complete run-time environment, there is an option to run your application completely outside the context of a browser, while still maintaining the ability to distribute it over the Web.

3. Integrated Development Environment
Silverlight offers a fully integrated development environment that should be relatively familiar to any .NET developer. Any .NET language can be used from back to front, but C# is the most common choice.

Also, the Silverlight UI itself is defined using an XML-based markup language, called XAML, which is the same technology used in the newest .NET UI framework, WPF. For obvious reasons, Silverlight does not offer full feature-parity with the WPF stack, but with careful structuring of an application, it would be theoretically possible to deploy both a Silverlight and a WPF application from the same code base.

Due to the integrated nature of the development environment it is also possible to utilize common server-side technologies like NHibernate or the Microsoft Entity Framework on the client through libraries like RIA Services. These libraries allow the Silverlight developer to directly utilize entity structures reflected down from the server. RIA services specifically creates a structure under which client-side interfaces and libraries are automatically created based on services defined on the server, which has the potential of greatly reducing development time.

4. Sophisticated Styling Capabilities
Silverlight provides powerful styling capabilities through the UI markup language XAML, and a tool called Expression Blend geared directly towards designers. This combination allows designers and developers to easily create any number of complicated layouts with sophisticated styling, including interactive animation elements—much of which would be challenging to create even with the features present in the new CSS 3 standard. Silverlight makes complicated layouts and interactive animations much easier to create without having to worry about cross-browser compatibility or force designers to dig into complicated HTML or CSS.

When making a final technology decision for Web applications, the ultimate answer is, as always, “it depends”. While Silverlight does present a compelling story for creating Line of Business applications, especially for companies already heavily invested in Microsoft technology, it is not necessarily always a good option. The fact that it requires a browser plug-in that is still nowhere near as ubiquitous as Flash does count against it. Also, its inherent complexity means it is definitely not intended for basic interactive websites.

Again, where Silverlight can really shine is in business application development scenarios where there is a known limited set of users and its client-side capabilities prove invaluable. However, it is still a maturing technology with its own weaknesses and foibles, and its feature set puts it square in competition with Adobe Flex. However, it is a welcome additional option in the world of Web technology. Examining the pitfalls of Silverlight development and comparing and contrasting its relative strengths and weaknesses will be the subject of a future article.

Author: bridge360blog

Software Changes Everything.... Bridge360 improves and develops custom application software. We specialize in solving complex problems at every phase of the software development lifecycle, removing roadblocks to help our clients’ software and applications reach their full potential in any market. The Bridge360 customer base includes software companies and world technology leaders, leading system integrators, federal and state government agencies, and small to enterprise businesses across the globe. Clients spanning industries from legal to healthcare, automotive to energy, and high tech to high fashion count on us to clear a path for success. Bridge360 was founded in 2001 (as Austin Test) and is headquartered in Austin, Texas with offices in Beijing, China.

One thought on “Is Silverlight Right for Your Development Team?

  1. I interested in this post for silverlight questions . I like it because it is most knowable for a group of development.so thank for share it.

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