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Silverlight 5 Announced; Conquest by HTML 5 Rebuffed?

Today, at the Silverlight Firestarter event on the Microsoft Campus in Redmond, Scott Guthrie (Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President, .NET Developer Platform) announced Silverlight 5 and introduced us to its features.  Among them:

  • 1080p video, GPU-acceleration, "trickplay" (variable speed playback with pitch correction)
  • WS-Trust support, low-latency networking for real time apps
  • Ability to set breakpoints on data binding expressions and debug them
  • Merging into Silverlight of WPF data binding features
  • <LoadTransition> tag in XAML, letting you do fly-ins without storyboards
  • Style setting "binding"
  • Multi-column text flow, font tracking/leading, vector-based PostScript printing API
  • Pivot Control, now be built into the Silverlight SDK
  • Immediate Mode Graphics API w/ GPU-accelerated 3D support
  • P/Invoke for low-level API programming
  • 64-bit version of SL Runtime

For more details,read this post on Silverlight team member Tim Heuer’s blog.

It’s a lot of stuff.  And as to what this all means to the prognosis for Silverlight’s continued existence among the living, I would say the technology will be with us for a while.  Of course, part of the reason for that longevity is that the Beta for Silverlight 5 won’t make an appearance until the Spring, and RTM/RTW won’t be until later next year.  But that’s fine.

If Silverlight seems off its heretofore aggressive release “cadence,” at least part of the reason is that the version for Windows Phone 7 (a version that a lot of people do not count) shipped only recently.  And if the wait seems long, realize that normally the Silverlight team wouldn’t talk to us until they were almost ready with a a CTP. But given the PDC brouhaha, the team knew they had to brief the developer community.  I wouldn’t wish it any other way.

But let’s put aside the SL5 vs. HTML5 debate for a moment; the battle of the 5s seems less urgent now.  Let’s instead consider what the SL4 demos that were shown, and the SL5 features that were announced, really mean for the product.

Here’s the message I got today: Silverlight is a technology for building serious business applications, and building them under the highly productive tooling regime of Visual Studio.  Yes, Silverlight apps can look subtle, futuristic, and kiosk-like.  Yes, Silverlight is a venerable media platform.  But, also, and perhaps above all, Silverlight is Microsoft’s rich client platform.  It lets you build line-of-business applications.  They can include powerful data visualization capabilities.  They can be highly data-connected.  They can be tested and debugged efficiently.  They can be re-skinned programmatically.

Whether you can or cannot create similar applications in HTML 5, given enough time, is beside the point.  Because in business you’re probably not “given enough time.”  You have an application to write; it’s got to be written quickly.  It’s got to run mostly bug-free, and the few bugs that get out have to be easily diagnosed and corrected.  And while these apps do not have to look like consumer-oriented kiosk installations, they should still have some punch: nice transitions, good use of color and graphics, and anything else that will make them fun enough and engaging enough to get users to adopt them and enjoy using them. And this has to be do-able under time and budget constraints that are tough and getting tougher.

That’s what Silverlight’s for.  One day, you’ll be able to do that with HTML.  That day’s not here.  Not yet.



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