The general public first learned of Microsoft’s plans for Silverlight 5 during a series of “firestarter” events that were held in December 2010. Only a few short months later, the beta version was released at the April 2011 MIX summit in Las Vegas with a series of demonstrations that highlighted several amazing new features including 3D graphics. Both events focused on the media and graphics impact of Silverlight 5, but the next version of the popular portable Common Language Runtime (CoreCLR) will contain many improvements that are incredibly beneficial for line-of-business (LOB) applications. These features are so powerful that most former barriers to entry for Silverlight in the enterprise will be removed, positioning the platform to host a multitude of powerful applications in the coming years.
Silverlight in the Enterprise
Silverlight has quietly gained a major foothold in enterprise environments as the platform of choice for LOB applications. Several key factors have contributed to its success inside the intranet, including the ability to write the application once and run it identically across a variety of browsers and platforms (Microsoft and OSX), the offline capabilities to allow users to run the software even when they are disconnected from the network, and the powerful layout engine that uses XAML to help create a phenomenal user experience.
When Microsoft required a dashboard for performance monitoring and maintenance of the cluster of smooth streaming servers that provided both real time and video-on-demand coverage of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, it was Silverlight that filled the need. Silverlight enabled a team of developers to quickly deliver the desired solution for advanced monitoring and remote configuration in time to help manage more than 12 petabytes of data. Silverlight powered rich, interactive graphs and charts that were hosted as SharePoint web parts for a major financial institution’s risk management platform. It also was used to deliver powerful experience managing corporate brands across social networks, aggregating data from multiple sources like Facebook and Twitter to provide a general “sentiment” related to the brand based on public reactions.
These real projects demonstrate the maturity of Silverlight within the enterprise. There have been many situations where Silverlight simply could not provide the right solution. Issues like limited access to the local file system and USB peripherals, the size and memory overhead of raster-based printing (far slower than vector-based), the complexity of managing rich text-based documents, and the inability to provide child windows for a customizable user experience have forced developers in the past to turn to other technologies. The latest version of Silverlight will change all of that.
The rich media, graphics, and 3D enhancements are important, but for LOB it is several other new features that really take Silverlight to the next level and are the focus of this article. These include text enhancements, performance enhancements, user interface improvements, changes to data-binding, and the addition of custom markup extensions and extended security features. All of these are important for LOB applications.