Silverlight – is it time to pay attention again?

I’ve recently had cause to stop and think about Silverlight again. The recent preview and then release of Mindscape’s Silverlight Elements control suite followed by the need to put some video on the web for a customer got me feeling like it was time to start paying attention again. I did a bit of work with Silverlight many years ago during it’s early 1.x days, but have largely been ignoring it for the past year or so.

Why? I don’t really know.

Initially I think it was just that it didn’t explode like some Microsoft developers (including me) hoped it would – the rich video and animation powers of Silverlight combined with C# in the backend instead of Flash was something that got a lot of people pretty excited. So I was probably a bit sad when it didn’t rise up and slay Flash overnight, however that shouldn’t detract from the fact that it’s now into it’s third release and is boasting some pretty impressive features.

This line of thinking got me heading over to where it was incredibly interesting to see Silverlight giving Sun’s Java a run for it’s money. At a rate of over 50% for installations it’s still not got the penetration of Flash, but it’s certainly got a presence that can’t be ignored.

It makes you wonder - what sort of percentage would I want to see before Silverlight could be considered as being “accepted” by the mainstream? If it’s not over 50%, then what is the magical figure I’m hoping to see?

Another factor in my ignoring Silverlight is that lately I’ve tended to immerse myself in technologies that I need for the projects (personal and work related) I’m currently working on. I’ve simply not needed Silverlight much, which has really let it drop into the background.. until last week, when a customer needed some video streamed on their site.

When it comes to video, Silverlight was always pretty good – but with 3.0 it’s even better. There’s some great support for new media formats in 3.0, which makes encoding is so much easier. Previously, converting to WMV wasn’t *that* hard, however it was a bit of a pain needing the Expression Media Encoder just to perform that task. With the formats Silverlight now supports it’s all so much easier. It took me all of 5 minutes to plug Tim Heuer’s Silverlight Video Player into the site, and that included the time spent throwing together a quick custom control wrapper for the Site Foundation Framework. After a bit more time spent playing about converting the source movie in Handbrake, and we were up and running with a slick looking video control. Next stop is a bit of investigation into the new IIS features around movie streaming, as well as a bit of work on potentially streaming from Amazon S3, but the initial investigation was incredibly painless, and the resulting demo page looked very slick as well as performing well.

So, what’s my conclusion?

Some of the above is me thinking out loud. My recent forays into using Silverlight for video impressed me, and made me wonder why I’ve been ignoring it for a while.

Silverlight has always had some great strengths. Previously in my mind, one of its weaknesses was a (perceived) low rate of installation for the plug in – which really seems to have improved a lot recently. Going forward, for anything involving rich internet application type work I’ll be happy to use Silverlight. At the moment it looks like serving video will be the main thing I’ll be needing, but who knows what might follow? As a .NET developer it’s too hard to turn down the level of integration you can get (both at an application and at an IDE level) between Silverlight and ASP.NET, and of course technologies like Azure and WCF.

I can’t quite work out what caused the technology to fade into the background for me over the past year or so, however when comparing my recent Silverlight experiences to some time I spent working in Flash I certainly know which technology I’d rather be using in future.

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Posted on Tuesday, March 30, 2010 9:46 PM |

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