Sunday, May 11, 2008

Is Silverlight just another buzzword?

[This was originally posted at]

There are always new buzzwords coming out in software development. One of those buzzwords gaining more traction is "Silverlight", a Microsoft technology to enable rich UI web applications.

I think that Silverlight is great, and is far more than a buzzword. I see it offering several big benefits:

  1. Graphical API -  Silverlight lets you draw and animate vector graphics. For example, you could easily do a graph. ASP.Net had ways to handle this, but they were slow and cumbersome (for example, use GDI+ to create the image on your server, and then load it up).
  2. Programming a compiled language (like C#) on the client - This is just awesome. Whether you've written an entire physics engine that you're running on the client, or just doing complex validation, the ability to code difficult logic in a first class language like C#, as opposed to a brittle scripting language, is invaluable.
  3. Rich object and event model - no more postbacks, easy to add controls, etc... - You could modify the DOM using JS, but it's so much easier to do this with Silverlight. For example, try dynamically adding an entire complex UserControl with JavaScript - it's doable, but hard. It's one line in silverlight.
  4. Cross-browser compliant - Silverlight just works on the main browsers (IE, Firefox, etc...). No more pulling your hair out because you forgot to check some DOM method nuance.
  5. UI rendered through xaml - Silverlight lets you create your "Form" via a markup language, somewhat like Html, but much cleaner. I think this is a cleaner style than creating it via the codeBehind (like WinForms).

How does Silverlight doe this? In one sense, it "cheats" by requiring a small download (kind of like a flash player). So, Silverlight isn't just like Ajax, which plays by the rules of the web but just stretches them by leveraging the XmlHttpRequest object, but rather Silverlight plays a whole new game.

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