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Microsoft Silverlight: 10 reasons to love it, 10 reasons to hate it

Four-letter word

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A year or so ago I wrote a post called Adobe AIR: 10 reasons to love it, 10 reasons to hate it. Here’s the same kind of list for Microsoft’s Silverlight, based on the forthcoming Silverlight 2.0 rather than the current version. The items are not in any kind of order - they also reflect my interest in application development rather than design. It is not a definitive list, so there are many more points you could make - by all means comment - and it will be interesting to have another look a year from now when the real thing has been out for a while.

For context, this Silverlight developer chart (below) is available in full on Brad Abrams’ blog here, or in Joe Stegman’s Deep Zoom version here.

Silverlight developer chart

The pros

  1. The Silverlight plug-in means developers can target a single, consistent runtime for browser-based applications, rather than dealing with the complexity of multiple browsers in different versions. You also get video and multimedia effects that are hard or impossible with pure HTML and JavaScript, though Adobe Systems' Flash has the same advantages.
  2. Execute .NET code without deploying the .NET runtime. The Silverlight plug-in does include a cut-down .NET runtime, but instead of dealing with a large download and the complexities of the Windows installer, the user has a small download of about 4MB, all handled within the browser. In my experience so far, installation is smooth and easy.
  3. Performance is promising. Silverlight comes out well in this prime number calculator, thanks no doubt to JIT compilation to native code, though it may not compare so well for rendering graphics.
  4. Support for Moonlight means there will be an official open source implementation of Silverlight, mitigating the proprietary aspect.
  5. Silverlight interprets XAML directly, whereas Adobe’s XML GUI language, MXML, gets converted to SWF at compiling time. In fact, XAML pages are included as resources in the compiled .XAP binary used for deploying Silverlight applications. A .XAP file is just a ZIP with a different extension. This also means that search engines can potentially index text within a Silverlight application, just as they can with Flash.
  6. Third-party component vendors are already well on with Silverlight add-ons. For example, Infragistics, ComponentOne and DevExpress.
  7. Take your .NET code cross-platform. With Macs popping up everywhere, the ability to migrate Visual Basic or C# code to a cross-platform, browser-based Silverlight client will be increasingly useful. Clearly this only applies to existing .NET developers - I guess this is the main market for Silverlight, but it is a large one. The same applies to the next point:
  8. Uses Visual Studio. Microsoft’s IDE is a mature and well-liked development environment, and since it is also the tool for ASP.NET you can use it for server-side code, as well as for the Silverlight client. For those who don’t get on with Visual Studio, the Silverlight SDK also supports command-line compilation.
  9. Choose your language. Support for multiple languages has been part of .NET since its beginning, and having the .NET runtime in Silverlight 2.0 means you can code your client-side logic in C#, Visual Basic, or thanks to the Dynamic Language Runtime (DLR) Iron Ruby or Iron Python.
  10. Isolated storage gives Silverlight applications local file access, but only in a protected location specific to the application, providing a relatively secure way to get this benefit.

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Next page: The cons

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