Over the past few weeks, Microsoft has been making a lot of announcements about SilverLight (formerly WPF/E). At NAB, they showcased some of its video capabilities and at MIX, they announced that it would have CLR support within browsers. After talking to some of the people that developed SilverLight at MIX and working with the beta and alpha tools over the past week, I’ve come to a few conclusions about SilverLight.
The video handling capabilities of SilverLight are impressive. During MIX, there were several demos showing multiple video streams being shown in one application, many of which were in motion and had various types of masks. The demos looked great at MIX, but what surprised me most is that they looked just as good on my 3 year old desktop at home and the applications were surprisingly easy to build. This is one area where SilverLight is definitely going to be the top dog.
The other great feature about SilverLight is the CLR integration. The in-browser CLR extension allows access to almost the entire .NET framework, from a client side app. It also uses XAML, the same presentation markup as WPF for the desktop. It’s nice because Microsoft isn’t trying to force developers into a new language. It’s also nice because it makes for a much more robust development experience than working with AJAX or even Flash.
To work with the .NET side of SilverLight, you will need the SilverLight 1.1 Alpha,
Amidst the discussion of SilverLight’s features, there has also been a lot of talk about how Flash will be affected. While at MIX, some of the demos I saw definitely showed that SilverLight had the potential of stealing a big chunk of Flash’s market share. However, after working with it for a little while, it is a bit weaker than Flash in some areas.
SilverLight currently has a very sparse control set, so building common interfaces can be a bit of a chore. There is a sample control set from Microsoft, but it’s still somewhat limited. At MIX, they did announce plans for more controls, but it will likely be a few months out. The other area where SilverLight is weak is the design tool. Most of the SilverLight tools in the Expression Suite are quite robust for version 1.0 tools, but Expression Design definitely feels a little thin when compared to Adobe’s tools.
In the SilverLight vs. Flash battle that’s starting, there really isn’t a clear frontrunner. Microsoft has really nailed the development aspect, but it will take a lot to beat Adobe at developing design tools. Whichever platform can support both audiences better will win in the end.