The Future of Silverlight


Shiv Prasad Gupta

There’s been a lot of discussion lately around web standards and HTML 5 in particular. People have been asking us how Silverlight fits into a future world where the <video> tag is available to developers. It’s a fair question—and I’ll provide a detailed answer—but I think it’s predicated upon an oversimplification of the role of standards that I’d like to clear up first. I’d also like to delineate why premium media experiences and "apps" are better with Silverlight and reveal how Silverlight is going beyond the browser to the desktop and devices.

Standards and Innovation

It’s not commonly known, perhaps, that Microsoft is involved in over 400 standards engagements with over 150 standards-setting organizations worldwide. One of the standards we’ve been involved in for years is HTML and we remain committed to it and to web standards in general. It’s not just idle talk, Microsoft has many investments based on or around HTML such as SharePoint, Internet Explorer, and ASP.NET. We believe HTML 5 will become ubiquitous just like HTML 4.01 is today.

Standardize - Innovate

But standards are only half of the story when we think of the advancement of our industry. Broadly-implemented standards are like paved roads.  They help the industry move forward together.  But before you can pave a road, someone needs to blaze a trail. This is innovation. Innovation and standards are symbiotic—innovations build on top of other standards so that they don’t have to "reinvent the wheel" for each piece of the puzzle. They can focus on innovating on the specific problem that needs to be solved. Innovations complement or extend existing standards. Widely accepted innovations eventually become standards. The trails get paved.

In the past, this has happened several times as browsers implemented new features that later became standards. Right now, HTML is adopting as standards the innovations that came from plug-ins like Flash and Silverlight. This is necessary because some of these features are so pervasive on the web that they are seen by users as fundamentally expected capabilities. And so the baseline of the web becomes a little higher than it was before. But user expectations are always rising even faster—there are always more problems we can solve and further possibilities needing to be unlocked through innovation.

This is where Silverlight comes in. On the web, the purpose of Silverlight has never been to replace HTML; it’s to do the things that HTML (and other technologies) couldn’t in a way that was easy for developers to tap into. Microsoft remains committed to using Silverlight to extend the web by enabling scenarios that HTML doesn’t cover. From simple “islands of richness” in HTML pages to full desktop-like applications in the browser and beyond, Silverlight enables applications that deliver the kinds of rich experiences users want. We group these into three broad categories: premium media experiences, consumer apps and games, and business/enterprise apps.


Beyond the Browser

In this discussion of the future of Silverlight, there’s a critical point that is sometimes overlooked as Silverlight is still often referred to—even by Microsoft—as a browser plug-in. The web is evolving and Silverlight is evolving, too. Although applications running inside a web browser remain a focus for us, two years ago we began showing how Silverlight is much more than a browser technology.

Silverlight Outside the Browser

There are three areas of investment for Silverlight outside the browser: the desktop, the mobile device, and the living room. Powerful desktop applications can be created with Silverlight today. These applications don’t require a separate download—any desktop user with Silverlight installed has these capabilities. These apps can be discovered and downloaded in the browser but are standalone applications that are painless to install and delete. Silverlight now also runs on mobile devices and is the main development platform for the new Windows Phone 7 devices. Developers that learned Silverlight instantly became mobile developers. Lastly, at NAB and the Silverlight 4 launch this year we showed how Silverlight can be used as a powerful, rich platform for living room devices as well.

Expect to see more from Silverlight in these areas especially in our focus scenarios of high-quality media experiences, consumer apps and games, and business apps.

When you invest in learning Silverlight, you get the ability to do any kind of development from business to entertainment across screens from browser to mobile to living room, for fun, profit, or both. And best of all, you can start today and target the 600,000,000 desktops and devices that have Silverlight installed.

If you haven’t already, start here to download all the tools you need to start building Silverlight apps right now.

Shiv Prasad, Student of information sector.