Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Yes, Silverlight is Dead

Not exactly quick off the block predicting this, but I didn't want to rush to judgement. But yes, Silverlight is dead, on the desktop at least.[1]

Why? Reach. Silverlight was always going to be playing catchup to Flash, which took pretty much a decade, remember, to get ubiquity. Silverlight just didn't have time on its side. Today if you build an app in Silverlight you can target contemporary browsers on Windows/Mac. By contrast if you build it in HTML you can target Macs, Linux, iPods, iPads, Android, Windows Phone, Kindles, PS3... the list goes on.

To put Silverlight out to all those individual devices is going to take Microsoft a heap of time and effort. By contrast all of those devices have web browsers already, most of them pretty good ones, and getting better all the time.

It's a numbers game. The browsers finally won.

But can HTML realistically replace Silverlight? Absolutely. Not entirely, not today, but surprisingly close, and getting closer by the day. The foundations for mature, maintainable web-client development are finally being put down. And the tooling. Visual Studio 2010's javascript IntelliSense is pretty damn impressive, and already supports jquery for example. Add support for MVVM development (ala knockout.js) and you've got a decent development workflow to rival what you might be used to in WPF/Silverlight/Winforms land (we'll probably see more about this out of Build this week). And don't forget there's a JS version of RX.

Sure, browser-based javascript is somewhat limited compared to the Silverlight runtime. The touch support isn't quite there yet, for example. But it's more than enough to support UI interaction, and the gap's closing awfully fast.

As a developer who started in web, then moved to the desktop I'm really excited about all of this because I can see a future that finally blends the best of both worlds.

[1] I'll clarify before I get flamed: Silverlight is not dead today. I'll be starting a new project using it real soon actually. But the transition is going to be pretty abrupt. I'll be amazed if you start any new Silverlight projects next year.

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