Silverlight and Sharepoint, what is the point?


APAC Sharepoint Conference 2007, Sydney – I had the pleasure of attending/presenting at this conference and was absolutely amazed at the level of approach folks have taken within the APAC region with Sharepoint so far.

One such company that caught my interest was OBS, whereby they have a workflow designer service in which empowers end-users to create and generate workflow via a web interface through sharpeoint. It currently uses AJAX and is quite a sophisticated chunk of code powering this concept forward. Yet, they’ve hit what I’ve called the “AJAX Barrier” it’s the part where you want to do more but can’t, you’re limited by JavaScript and the Browser and well life could be more richer if you had say – Silverlight (picture a Superman style music Intro on that last sentence).

OBS get this and are now embarking on using Silverlight as a replacement approach to AJAX, and i will be monitoring their approach going forward (with clipboard in hand and studying their developer enclosure hehe). I’ll be flying down to Melbourne to help them get started hopefully next week so it will be interesting to spend some time with their developers and get some raw feedback on Silverlight so far.

I also spoke to another Sharepoint developer whom is looking to use Silverlight as a way of conveying behavior patterns in search with Sharepoint, to present end-users a visually appealing approach to how they search within an enterprise using word-association linking.

An interesting approach was also put forward, where Silverlight + Sharepoint + Educational institution could combine all three in a unique way. I think this is where you could use Silverlight even in it’s alpha state, to produce some compelling solutions for a fraction of the costs! (e.g.: Use the Silverlight.live.com cloud as it’s FREE! – as in beer). In that imagine if you will using Video/Audio mixed with Sharepoint to help users understand Sharepoint or information contained inside Sharepoint!

Another Sharepoint designer/developer approached me today whom is looking to use Silverlight as way of reducing the graphical user interface footprint for remote Australian users whom need access to quantities of data, but are living in a non-broadband environment.

The list goes on and I was inundated throughout with “We are thinking of using Silverlight..” from Sharepoint partners, customers and consumers (exciting news me thinks as I’m so glad I didn’t get the usual “Is this a Flash Killer?” as clearly these people don’t care and are more interesting in using it then discussing it’s religious origins?).

Silverlight 1.1 is currently in Alpha and already we are seeing signs of folks like these looking to push the .NET language / architecture into the next level and armed with a powerful service as Sharepoint it’s got a lot on offer (Microsoft Infopath, Word, Excel, Access, Groove etc all well seeded enterprise grade solutions in which Silverlight could easily now re-appropriate their individual data repositories into a unified rich experience through alternative visual representations).

That being said, I’d like to see eventually Sharepoint itself begin to use Silverlight more as it’s fairly easy to spin-up a webpart inside Sharepoint that houses Silverlight (I almost had it working except I couldn’t upload .dll files into Sharepoint for obvious reasons – but with Admin rights I could of). It’s also worth noting that one initial gripe I had with Sharpeoint was the click + refresh approach, yet I could see a lot of potential in empowering folks the ability to manage their entire “page/site” within Sharepoint using a Hybrid HTML + Silverlight approach and I’m confident that with enough planning it could easily be slotted in.

I say this as Silverlight is a natural progression forward in evolving AJAX applications into the next level of rich experience, it not only does this for AJAX but traditional HTML/JavaScript as well.

At present, given it’s alpha the realistic approach today is to marry AJAX with Silverlight and utilise the graphical / audio & video elements together as it can return a fairly fluid result (my personal tests so far have indicated).

Point is, you could really do a lot of damage with Silverlight and Sharepoint combined and it could offer a host of points of difference in your offerings should you chose to imagine. If you are thinking of using it any way with Sharepoint or what to bounce some ideas off me, feel free to flick me an email and I’ll be happy to chat with you about it’s possibilities (No strings attached, NDA and all).

Fun crowd (considering)

Comments (4)

  1. BinaryJam says:

    I saw Silverlight as an ajax replacement, with the 1.1 release immediately, nice rich RIA apps or less rich and use the silverlight to control your webpage instead, a kind of DhmtlApplication replacement for the truly masochistic.

    Being a Sharepointy person, I hate the click refresh of Sharepoint, I have for ages so I spent some time Ajaxing some webpart, with some success but these are all handcrafted and subject to all the usual ajax problems. Enter silverlight ? Could it be done.

    So I’ve been toying with silverlight and sharepoint one of the first things I did was to put the videoplayer example into a webpart.

    I thought binaries could be a problem so I stuck to the 1.0 beta techniques. This will give a great visual and media experience but has all the problems of ajax (javascript) although I don’t see why they should be as Im developing parts for installation instead of uploading.

    My biggest problem with all of this is I don’t have orcas on my dev machine and I have 2k3 sharepoint to play with so I’m starting in blend and having to paste into studio 2k3.

    So what am I rambling on about, well essentially I agree I can see there could be a lot of great things from silverlight and sharepoint combined and I hope it me that gets to do some of it.

  2. BinaryJam says:

    I think my proxy just ate the comment I wrote. If not delete this if it did, Im not typeing that again and sorry you got empty comments (but essentially I agree).

  3. Brent says:

    I think this will be huge.  Users of collaboration applications like SharePoint feel the pain of web interfaces the most.  AJAX can improve things, but Silverlight makes it feel like a desktop experience, and that’s ultimately what user’s are comparing it to.

  4. Andy Nogueira says:

    I also think that SharePoint and SilverLight are two great tools with lot of potential if combined together.

    I’ve created this generic web part to expose Silverlight content in SharePoint 2007. It can be used with SL1.0 and 1.1. It’s still in Alpha 0.1 stage but lots of improvements will come in the future. It’s available in Codeplex (www.codeplex.com/silverpart)

    I’ve also just presented a session at Toronto Code Camp 2008 about integrating both technologies.

    http://www.torontocodecamp.net/Sessions/tabid/55/CodecampId/1/SessionId/23/Default.aspx