Microsoft Windows 8: How Dead Is Silverlight?

Microsoft Windows 8: How Dead Is Silverlight?

It’s apparent that Silverlight will be a supported part of the Windows environment for the forseeable future.

Microsoft's BUILD conference has come and gone, and the sky hasn’t fallen. Right from the first keynote on the first day of BUILD, Silverlight developers were told what they needed to hear— there’s a home for your preferred development platform in Windows 8. Also, there are some great new opportunities.

In fact, every Microsoft development tool has a place in Windows 8. The desktop mode of Windows 8 lets all the development tools we know and love continue to produce applications. And the new Metro mode of Windows 8 provides new development opportunities for most developers in the Microsoft stack.

This makes sense. After all, Microsoft has a long history of taking good care of its developers. However, confusing messages coming out of Microsoft back in the PDC 2010 time frame, as well as in the months leading up to BUILD, created concern that Silverlight was going to be abandoned. At the same time, Silverlight 5 was in beta, with some sense that it would be released to manufacturing by the end of 2011.

Now the messages are clearer, and it’s apparent that Silverlight will be a supported part of the Windows environment for the foreseeable future. But at the same time, the new Metro version of Internet Explorer (IE) 10 doesn’t allow plug-ins. Not Flash, and not Silverlight. The version of IE 10 in the desktop mode of Windows 8 lets plug-ins run just fine.

If you do want to do development in Metro on Windows 8, what sort of skills do you need? Windows Runtime (WinRT), Microsoft’s new runtime for developers to build applications in Metro, creates an equal-opportunity environment for .NET, C++, and HTML5 developers. On the .NET side of things, one of the key skills to building Metro apps is XAML—the same technology that Silverlight depends on.

Over at metroapps, Carl Franklin has done a good job of enumerating the differences between Silverlight and WinRT, showing that 52 percent of UI types from Silverlight 4.0 exist in WinRT. And in some cases, there are very good reasons for them not to be the same, such as the System.Windows.Browser namespace, which exists in Silverlight to provide a bridge between managed code and Javascript—something handled in an entirely different way in WinRT.

In fact, the wiki shows that the toolset closest to WinRT is Silverlight. Silverlight developers are already familiar with a significant portion of the techniques required to develop in WinRT. In fact, one of the demos given at BUILD showed how to migrate Silverlight applications to Metro. Granted it was a demo app, but it does show off the possibilities.

The outcome of BUILD revealed that Silverlight is not only alive and well, but the opportunities for Silverlight developers have also never been greater. You can continue developing the way you do today, and if you want to start building Metro applications, you’ve already got most of the skills needed. It truly is the best of both worlds.

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