My MIX11 wrap up

Last week I was in Las Vegas for the Microsoft MIX conference.

I was hesitant to go there but at the last minute I decided to attend. Finally I don’t regret it as I needed the latest information on Microsoft clients stack (moving) strategy, especially curious to listen how Microsoft articulate his message on HTML5, and what people think about it (+ I went to several interesting RDs meetings as well). As expected this was a huge HTML5 tidal wave. So I was there to contemplate the wind change for Silverlight, a process already started a few times ago:

  • The “Muglia gate” at the last PDC: the misinterpreted message “Our Silverlight strategy and focus going forward has shifted”.
  • This message was consolidated and confirmed as accurate a few days later. In case people still had confusion…
  • Then there was this post on the Silverlight Team blog, signed by 3 MS VPs a few days before MIX11, which I interpret as “we are not going to focus on Silverlight at MIX11, it will be a massive HTML5 show but please don’t freak out, we continue to push forward on Silverlight for some key scenarios.”

Silverlight presence during keynotes was insignificant

even Kinect got more attention… and this is not a web technology…

For the first time in 6 years Silverlight was not shown in the first Keynote at MIX. In fact, it was barely shown at the second Keynote… Silverlight 5 got only 20 minutes of attention, including 10 min on the BlueAngels website done with… HTML5. So here we are.. Silverlight 5 was shown as a media technology, on a public facing web site. The exact opposite of what the consensus is beginning to believe: Silverlight is for LOB applications, HTML 5 is for public web site. Then we had a demo on the new 3D API, which is pretty solid but again… no focus on business apps here.

But the lack of Silverlight emphasis at MIX can be explained reasonably:

  • Silverlight is now a mature technology, there was many more new features to announce for Windows Phone… and Windows Phone is… Silverlight!
  • All Silverlight 5 new features were already announced and demoed during a dedicated event, FireStarter back in December (just 5 months ago). Since then the team has been busy working to release the public beta, which is great.

Having said that, I hated the first part of day 1 keynote, and not because of the absence of Silverlight. I found the “native HTML5” message very disturbing, it does not make any sense to me. HTML is everything except platform native! Microsoft trying to sell “Web = HTML5 = Windows” is pretty ridiculous.

Silverlight is not dead

it is funny that as soon as a technology is not shown at a Microsoft technical conference people think it is dead. What we see is Silverlight taking the back seat. It is no more the diva, but it is not being killed. I am sure Silverlight is still playing an important role in Microsoft strategy, but not like we thought at first. This might be difficult to admit for people (like me) who have invested lots of energy (even their whole business) on Silverlight, but think about this: the initial message "Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform implementation of the .NET Framework for building media experiences and rich interactive applications for the web" is no more. 5 or 6 years ago when Microsoft started working on SL they couldn’t have predicted all the changes that happened in the way we consume technologies. Nobody could. Data and apps are moving to so many devices (Mobiles, Tablets, TV, …). iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, … Silverlight is not there, and will probably never be. So Silverlight is not a Silverlight bullet, Microsoft realize it (and it’s a good thing!), and decide to embrace HTML5. while it is time. True cross-platform is for HTML5, Microsoft needs to be on that front too (whatever you think of HTML5 today: no tooling, not mature, …). I agree their marketing message could be a lot better. The way they talk to developers currently is a total mess. From the first keynote we know that the IE team wants Silverlight dead. period. Dean Hachamovitch declared that browsers should read the web without plugins. In the mean time Silverlight team has done an incredible work to deliver this solid release full of incredible features! I guess we have to deal with Microsoft having multiple heads going to different directions.


Silverlight future?

I see Silverlight going back to where it comes from: WPF! which is ironic… Rich browser experiences are moving toward HTML5. Silverlight is strong and shine for real integrated desktop apps. Silverlight 5 features bring awesome stuff for enterprise apps: elevated trust in browser, vector printing, P/Invoke, unrestricted file access, multiple windows… Silverlight is loosing its “cross platform” promise from its initial headline. The “reach” is now an HTML5 job. The key point here is to not compare Silverlight and HTML5. You won’t use both technologies for the same goal. I really don’t want to compare tooling, productivity or performance, as a .NET developer, see Silverlight and HTML5 as 2 options part of your tool belt. Know the differences and best choice for your project.

And this changes nothing for me. Talking to my customers or while teaching courses, I have always promoted Silverlight for platform business app, not really for public web sites. I (and my company) have built tons of Silverlight apps, among them 1% media and 99% LOB apps. Even now with all the hype and momentum on HTML5, we would rebuild the same apps with Silverlight. But we would for sure consider HTML5 for web sites. Anyway if you are a web developer it would be silly not to consider HTML5 => this is the web! Ignoring HTML5 would be a mistake. But the time you invested in XAML is not lost either.


  • Thanks for this update Laurent!

    I too have invested a lot in Silverlight, and I suppose I was hoping that the plugin would become ubiquitous enough that it would work for public-facing websites. Clearly HTML5 has put the nail in that coffin!

    So do you see Silverlight subsuming WPF, or vice versa?

    I love Silverlight and will continue to use it whenever I can, but I'm off to buy a HTML5 book!



  • Great piece!

    An excellent method of leveraging current Silverlight experience is to write mobile applications for Windows Phone 7.

    Just my two cents...

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