Silverlight 3 UK launch ... and the future of WPF?

A brief article on the launch of Silverlight 3 and why the interest in Silverlight is eclipsing that of WPF.

The excitement behind Silverlight has been gaining in momentum throughout this year, with one of the highpoints being the MIX09 conference in March this year where the announcement of Silverlight 3 beta took centre stage. There are no signs of this momentum having dropped with the final version of Silverlight 3 being release tomorrow, on July 10th.

I will be attending the UK launch of Silverlight 3, together with our MD Gary Scott, at the MS Offices in London.

invite

... for some reason, we in the UK are 12 days behind the rest of the world ;-)

I came to Silverlight through its big-brother WPF about half a year ago. I was looking for a new challenge and WPF certainly delivered, the framework has an elegance that leaves its predecessor WinForms looking clunky and second-rate. Silverlight shares this same elegance, some of the finer details are missing (Triggers, 3D, double-click events!), however there are enough similarities that a WPF developer can pick up Silverlight in a matter of hours, furthermore developing applications that target both frameworks is quite straightforward.

Since making the move to Silverlight I have done very little with WPF. I have found that my Silverlight blog posts and articles have proved far more popular than their WPF counterparts. Also, our customers here at Scott Logic are showing an increasing interest in Silverlight, but rarely mention WPF. So why is this?

Most companies within the financial sector follow a similar archetype; with their desktop software being most typically developed with WinForms (or Excel!), and a seemingly equal split between companies whose web offerings are developed on a Microsoft platform (ASP.NET) or Sun Java (J2EE).

If we think for a moment about what WPF could mean for companies such as these; personally I think the answer is unfortunately very little. WPF revolutionises the way in which the UI is assembled and connects to your business objects, as a developer I think it is great! However, is that enough to convince the management that they should ditch their WinForms development and invest in WPF? I don't think it is. Whilst the developers will enjoy the switch to WPF, what's in it for the end users - skinning? rounded borders? (blurry fonts? - ahem). If there is no perceived end-user benefit or reduced development cost, there are no compelling reasons to adopt WPF. Interestingly Microsoft's Tim Sneath mentioned that the early expectations for WPF were that it would be "primarily for consumer software", although he does allude to adoption of WPF for enterprise software - sorry Tim, I just don't see it happening from here!

The story for Silverlight is very different. Delivering interactive web applications has always been a struggle, the use of AJAX to retrofit interactivity on top of what is essentially a static presentation model, HTML, is a constant battle. However, interactivity and a rich UI is something that all end-users want ... and Silverlight certainly delivers. This is the reason why Silverlight is gaining interest not just from the developers, but also from their managers (and their manager's managers). Interestingly those companies that develop their web-offerings with Sun Java seem to be as interested in Silverlight as their Microsoft ASP.NET counterparts.

tortoise

With Silverlight starting on what looks like a winning streak, what is the future for WPF? Some people are of the belief that Silverlight will eventually kill of WPF, however I do not share that view. Personally I think that WPF will be eclipsed by the shadow of Silverlight for a few years for the reasons given above. However, I think that WPF is the Tortoise to Silverlight's Hare; as companies start to adopt Silverlight their developers will gain the expertise necessary to develop WPF applications. My thinking is that in a few years time, when these companies embark on new desktop software developments, it is not the features of WPF that will steer them towards WPF, but rather their developer skillset.

The immediate future for Silverlight looks very bright.

Or is it? ... Unfortunately not. Our customers want to use Silverlight, but so often they cannot because they know their users do not have the required plugin to run Silverlight applications. The problem is that the end-users will probably not install Silverlight until they have a reason to, a sort of Chicken or the Egg problem. With statistics indicating that approximately 25% of users having Silverlight installed, this is a big problem.

So, back to the Silverlight 3 UK Launch, if there is a QA session, there is only one question that I really need to ask, and that is:

quote Ian, as a developer I am sold on Silverlight. The release of version 3 put the icing on a cake that is already quite sweet. But what is Microsoft doing to help user-adoption of the plugin? quote

Regards, Colin E.

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