Why Choose Silverlight for Application Development

Why Choose Silverlight for Application Development

Rich Internet Applications (RIAs)

To help explain why one would choose Silverlight for application development, I think it’s important to have a basic understanding of Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Silverlight is one of a small handful of RIA software frameworks that are used to build interactive web applications for internal enterprise applications and public-facing Internet sites. Flash and Java are the other major RIA software frameworks that compete with Silverlight. RIAs share many of the rich capabilities of desktop applications (e.g. drag-and-drop, animation, and other interactive abilities) and are usually delivered by way of a browser through a plug-in like the Flash plug-in, Java Virtual Machine plug-in, and Silverlight plug-in. Unlike JavaScript/AJAX applications which use built-in browser capabilities, RIA users must first install a plug-in using the computer's operating system before launching the application.

What is Silverlight?

Silverlight is Microsoft’s free plug-in based on the .NET framework, which is compatible across multiple browsers, devices and operating systems. Silverlight allows browser-based applications to provide business users with a powerful user interface that can interact with files, devices, data and applications such as Microsoft Office. At DMC, we have found Silverlight to be a great companion for our SharePoint Dashboard solutions.

Silverlight is available as a free download from Microsoft. You can download the latest version of the Silverlight plug-in here.

Once you have downloaded the Silverlight plug-in, take a look at an example of a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Silverlight Dashboard built on the Silverlight framework. (NOTE: Inactive)

Benefits of building a business application with Silverlight

I think one of the greatest benefits you are likely to enjoy from Silverlight applications is greater user adoption and acceptance of the new application. This is especially true when you transition from a rich-client application that must be installed on a user’s computer to a browser-based application. Silverlight applications are likely to engage users longer through their rich presentation of content and interactive capabilities. It’s not uncommon for the users I work with to describe our Silverlight applications as being fun to use.

Another key benefit of Silverlight is powerful data visualization capabilities. Graphical data views are rich and often animated and interactive, which is a far superior experience to that of a traditional browser-based application. Well-designed Silverlight applications make it easy for users to drill down into data with a simple mouse-click and minimize the need for users to scroll up, down, left, and right. Silverlight provides my development teams with a valuable tool that helps maximize preciously scarce screen real estate.

We find that Silverlight vastly reduces the development, testing, maintenance, and support effort required to deliver a successful business application. Unlike JavaScript/AJAX applications, Silverlight applications behave consistently across different browsers which can significantly reduce development and testing time. Creating an interactive user interface with JavaScript/AJAX is tedious, messy, time-consuming, and frequently buggy. I think few would argue that Visual Studio 2010 makes it easy for .NET developers to create Silverlight applications. In addition, operations and support teams need not worry about executing the rollout of application updates, as users will automatically pull down the latest updates whenever they start the application.

Bottom Line

Silverlight’s native integration with SharePoint and its interactive controls are the primary reasons we began using Silverlight to build business applications. Check out William Mortl's blog to learn more about SharePoint Web Part development and Silverlight. Other Silverlight benefits include:

  • Cool and interactive applications that boost system adoption.
  • More efficient use of screen real estate.
  • Faster development lifecycles.
  • More reliable applications.
  • Great tools for developers.

In my opinion, Silverlight is the best RIA framework for building successful business applications. It’s hard to argue against choosing Silverlight over JavaScript for RIA development, but there are some important trade-offs to examine when comparing Silverlight and Flash. In my next blog, I’ll explain some of these key trade-offs.


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