Silverlight To Run Natively on Windows Phone 7 Series

Silverlight will come pre-installed and run fully trusted OOB on Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series

It seems like month after month the Silverlight story gets better and better. Silverlight adoption has continued at a rapid pace with installations approaching 60 percent of all Internet devices worldwide—an increase of nearly 15 percentage points in just the past four months. Well, the Silverlight story just got better again.

The Windows Phone 7 Series was one of the best kept secrets in Microsoft history.  Unveiled to eager mobile enthusiasts in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress 2010, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the phone on February 15th, 2010. But, Microsoft kept the really big news on the phone secret to the public until the Microsoft MIX Conference a month later on March 15. I got wind of the news months earlier, and I have to tell you it took everything I had to keep it secret until the official announcement. There have been very few more exciting announcements in my 20-plus years working with Microsoft (like the announcement of .NET itself; and even that it arguable).  The announcement was this: Silverlight will run natively on the phone. That is huge; more on the impact of that a bit later.

 Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president, .NET Developer Platform, and Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president, Windows Phone Program Management, opened MIX 10 with a keynote that introduced the new application platform for the Windows Phone 7 Series. It includes developer tools, application frameworks, and the support for both Silverlight and XNA. And then they announced that short of the phone device itself, Microsoft would be giving away all of it for free. That’s right. A custom beta version of Visual Studio and Expression Blend tailored for building Silverlight applications for the Windows Phone 7 Series. Get yours here and the Windows Phone 7 Series Developer Training Kit is here.

 The Impact

First, what does it mean to run natively on the device? Well, it means that Silverlight comes pre-installed on the phone. It also means Silverlight applications run fully trusted, out of browser (OOB) on the phone; which means they there’s an API to the GPS and such.

 Silverlight on The Windows Phone 7 Series will have close to perfect parity with the currently shipping Silverlight. The only difference is an Silverlight API for multi-touch and the device-specific APIs like to the camera and to the phone. That means if it runs in Silverlight in the browser it also runs on the phone…without any significant change in code. Ever hear of the bold promise of write once/run everywhere?  We are getting closer.

 Automatically updated: The Silverlight runtime will be automatically updated through channels similar to Windows Update; as will the Phone’s OS platform itself. And there will be an application store similar to “you know who’s” but better.

 The emulator is rock solid. It works in Visual Studio and in Expression Blend. So you can start building applications for the phone now even before the devices are available. We were told we could start building applications for The Windows Phone 7 Series six months ago: “You just need to target an 800 x 480 screen resolution,” I was told. By the way, that screen resolution is twice what the iPhone has.

 The tools (Visual Studio and Blend) include the now infamous “metro” theme in terms of XAML styles. That’s the look and feel of The Windows Phone 7 Series. So you can build professional applications that just look like they should be on the phone without any help from a designer or any real effort in look and feel.  hat is just brilliant on Microsoft’s part.

 I’m a “good news/bad news” kind of guy so what is the bad news? Well, “bad” is a matter of interpretation, but consider this:

  • We will not physically get devices until the end of the year (in time for the holidays). Clearly it would have been great to make the announcement and announce general availability.
  • We do not know how much the phone is going to cost. They could price it for the elite at 3x the iPhone and really make it a device for the elite. Or they can use a strategy similar to the one they used with the Xbox and price it low enough to guarantee adoption. Either way there will be multiple hardware vendors producing Windows Phone 7 Series devices so there will be a variety of features and pricing. Interestingly enough, the Windows Phone 7 Series product team lives in that Entertainment & Devices Division of Microsoft with the Xbox team.
  • There has been no official word on carriers, but the rumor is multiple carriers. Thank God. If you own an iPhone and actually use it as a telephone you know what I mean.
  • Many of the mobile ISVs have been potentially alienated, and if they want to produce Windows Phone 7 Series  applications then it will have to be in Silverlight because there is no native code (or any other code) API to the Windows Phone 7 Series. It’s Silverlight or nothing. For the ISVs who have Windows Mobile 6.5 applications right now that means a complete rewrite from scratch of their existing product suites. We even saw some whining (not my word) in the press from Mozilla saying there will not be a Firefox for the Windows Phone 7 Series because it would require a complete rewrite.
  • But, I think the speculation inside Microsoft is even more interesting.  Even the product teams at Microsoft could be alienated by this Tsunami. It was just a few short years ago that the edict came down from high internally which said, “You will have a SharePoint story or you will not be a product team here.” Shortly thereafter we saw teams like the BizTalk release SharePoint tools for Biztalk. Silverlight is more wildly adopted than SharePoint at this point so you can see a similar edict coming down from the Steve Ballmer/Ray Ozzie level: “You will have a Silverlight story and a Windows Phone 7 Series story or you will not be a product team here.” Can you imagine the whining from the native code developers at Microsoft? Makes me smile.
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