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No Hard Feelings, Silverlight

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I very rarely just hard-link to someone else’s blog from my blog just because I liked an article’s content. But this guy has “seen the light” in so close to the same way that I did that I can’t help myself.


He writes,

Now, some of us that have been doing web development for some time, and have suffered the pains of cross-browser compatibility, JavaScript (the copy/paste snippet joke language), CSS (the “crap, I moved a DIV and all hell’s broken loose” language), have also seen the advances in these fields. Not to sound repetitive, but jQuery for example has not not only made JavaScript fun, but opened our eyes in seeing how powerful this so called “joke” language actually is. CSS has become easy. I actually really dug into CSS after learning jQuery and realized how stupid I was to ignore it for so long.


Some say “Sure, I can also program in Assembly and not use C#”, to which I reply "Open your eyes". Using HTML, jQuery and CSS is by no means less productive or harder to do than learning XAML, MVVM and asynchronous programming.

I’ve learned to love strongly typed languages, and I greatly admire Silverlight (as I do Flash, but Silverlight is spoken in my native tongue, C#). But I am not so hard-nosed as to think that the dynamic and “simpleton” language that Javascript is is not immensely powerful, productive and even often adequate on its own. We sometimes choose our priorities based on our habits and interests, not based on actual output and facts, and this is often because our view of the facts is tainted by the prior experiences of the earlier decades (late 90s and early 2000s). And we choose not to examine the realities of changing times because we’ve either a) become complacent with our strongly-typed languages, and/or b) our prior biases hold us back. Or perhaps c) our over-experience in strongly-typed languages has made our egos too smug to consider that the value of functional languages versus strongly typed languages is not a black vs. white, improper vs. proper matter.

Much has changed in the past two years. Two years ago, I said the same thing—2007 to 2008 saw the widespread adoption of major game-changing Javascript libraries like Prototype+Scriptaculous, MooTools, and, yes, jQuery, which is when client-side development became almost as interesting as it was in the IE4 days. But in 2009-2010 the changes were far more significant. Proposed overhauls to the web platform from WHATWG broke the web browser from its 1999-esque chains with rich RIA capabilities, and the plug-in model thus became antiquated.

None of this is to say that Silverlight isn’t the best RIA platform since, well, Flash. But then again, “best” is in the eye of the beholder. Five years ago, as Microsoft was laying out the game plan for WPF and then Silverlight, it was fairly obvious that that team couldn’t have been more on the right track. Silverlight’s innovation and its evolution and Microsoft’s support of Silverlight have been amazing, arguably even close to perfect.

But there was an error made by Microsoft, and that error was made several years ago, when Microsoft declared that they would no longer innovate in Internet Explorer itself. (This is a particularly stupid move business-wise for Microsoft since nothing would make the Windows platform stronger than a rock-solid web browser that runs only on Windows and does more than what the other browsers do.) I’ve dug this error up multiple times before, but it keeps coming back to haunt Microsoft. They chose to sit on their laurels because big corporations kept IE6 installed on Windows XP on corporate employees’ workstations and never upgraded nor migrated.

Silverlight does what it attempts to do very well, the same thing that Flash and Java applets back in the day used to do, and that is to be a workaround to the limitations of the web browser. But the web has caught up with the demand, and not only Chrome but also Opera, Safari, and Firefox can run most of the projects at http://www.chromeexperiments.com/. It’s possible that Internet Explorer 9, with its promises of partial HTML 5 support, will be able to run a project or two over there, which is great. The Internet Explorer team is back in gear, catching up to modern standards, more or less, and even throwing an innovation in here or there, as with DirectX rendering. But the point of all this is that Silverlight is here to scratch an itch that already healed. That’s a good thing. Silverlight is wonderful, and it’s still useful for multicast video broadcasts and for line-of-business moderately secure web UIs where it should be more difficult for the user to view source or to select text and copy and paste it somewhere else. Some corporations need that, I’m sure. I also need Silverlight or Flash for webcam input support. Silverlight also fills the need for RIAs written in C# for those developers that refuse to master Javascript because they still see it as a simple language that one simply cannot be productive in. But those developers are wrong. For the bulk of the web, sorry, no hard feelings Silverlight, but this other thing over here seems to have snuck up behind you and fixed the problem you were hired to solve. HTML does RIA. Thanks, though, and nice scrollbars. *wink*

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Published at DZone with permission of Jon Davis, DZone MVB. See the original article here.

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