RIA is a belief, Silverlight is the execution.


I interact a lot around discussions in the Rich Interactive/Internet Application (RIA) space. I read as much as I can on it and keep tabs on what I find interesting around theories associated to RIA. I also engage folks whom never have even heard the acronym RIA and it’s interesting conversation to have as how do you explain it without going deep into a detailed technology discussion.

What does RIA represent really.
It’s effectively an idea, on how to get maximum user experience through a browser payload initially. In that we all can agree that we’d love to balance our general ledgers via the browser as it’s an easy footprint to leverage whilst at the same time we can get a sense of depth via such a small footprint.

HTML combined with JavaScript (aka AJAX) is doing a lot of interesting things, but it effectively hits a barrier at some point and it could come down to simple GUI (Graphic User Interface) positioning of elements that or involvement of other forms of media (animation, movie, audio, remote data connection points). RIA on the other hand overall is about clawing our away out of this realm of limitation and into the next natural existence, by aggregating as many of the media elements and the twists and turns that are associated with them into a rich interactive experience, which can empower end-users to solve real world business grade solutions (that or simply provide an existence to goof around in).

How does Silverlight Play a role then?
Silverlight has and will always be the missing piece in the overall Microsoft Platform stack. It’s been missing for years and whilst we have made substantial bold movement in the Windows Form Project space and at the same time really pumped a lot of goodness into the Web Form Project space, we still have this missing piece in the middle. It’s usually filled by Flash but in reality what does that do to the overall development practices buried deep within our customer base?

It means you may have to learn an alterative technology that has similar syntax to C# / XAML but is obviously different. It also means that you’re not really getting an end to end tool driven solution (Visual Studio is a fantastic productive tool, so one has to agree that if we can keep in the one space and tweak/pull code to suite life is good right?).

Enter Silverlight’s existence, in that our bet at Microsoft is to enable folks to move upwards and downwards in the three tiers of platform experience (ASP/AJAX | Silverlight | WPF). Each has their own righteous approach to execution but the underlying win for the average .NET punter is that you get to re-use your skill set and understanding of Microsoft’s approach throughout. In that if you were a to study C# and XAML tomorrow, this effectively becomes your passport up and down the stack right?

Furthermore, it’s a natural progression in enabling customers around the world to enhance their existence online both through browsers but also soon via other client surfaces using an enriching experience. That’s the overall bet anyway. Is it going to happen tomorrow? nope, it’s a marathon not a sprint and simply put focus on up skilling now as that will be your safest bet.

Well, what is Microsoft’s vision overall around RIA then (Silverlight + VS2008 + Expression?)
Once you’ve grasped the context of what RIA represents you’re probably going to either want to build or give it a miss. If you chose the earlier, you’re now looking down the barrel of a whole new world in which to approach. You’re going to have to weigh up both your developer & designer capabilities, along side associated logistics (servers, bandwidth etc) associated to the cost in implementation.

It’s a lot of variables trust me (a lot of years playing in this space telling you hehe)

The key ingredient that we believe is worth the investment in Silverlight is that you’re basically buying one socket but opening up into other realms of possibility. In that down the road the overall eco-system that surrounds Silverlight is growing to a rate that I’ve never personally seen.

For example, Visual Studio 2008 has a lot of new features and productivity gains associated to it and Silverlight is buried deep within. You also then have Expression Studio to match, so in a nutshell you have both ends of a gradient (developer vs designer) meeting in the middle via these two suite of tools. On top of this, you then have an entire platform stack to pick from, and given some of the improvements associated with Windows 2008, this is heating up to solid solution (eg: IIS 7.0 is quite an exciting piece). It gets better though, as we are making some strategic movements associated with Live.com cloud, and one thing I’ve came to a crashing conclusion is that folks internally are really looking to push the Microsoft service cloud further and deeper then it is today.

Overall you have an entire ecosystem, many brands and i mean many! waiting for you to pickup and engage. Silverlight is effectively one of many points of entry and it’s journey is to be the middle guy, the one that is bound by obvious security restraints but at the same time hints at strong end-user experience over the wire (Internet). Looking to do more in client surface reach as well!

Are Microsoft competing with Flash?
Honestly, no. I think there is a lot of overlap and intersection points between Silverlight and Flash but if you step back and look at the entire product spectrum you’ll see to isolate the argument down to feature vs feature in Flash battle, really undervalues you the proposition put forward around Microsoft’s bet in Rich Interactive Applications. Silverlight has a roadmap that differs in my opinion from Flash, and realistically it both can be fused together or if you prefer to pick one then so be it.. choice is a brilliant thing to have.

Microsoft is simply looking to complete the circle of User Experience. Any questions?

Comments (2)

  1. Mike Downey says:

    <snip>Are Microsoft competing with Flash?

    Honestly, no. I think there is a lot of overlap and intersection points between Silverlight and Flash but if you step back and look at the entire product spectrum you’ll see to isolate the argument down to feature vs feature in Flash battle, really undervalues you the proposition put forward around Microsoft’s bet in Rich Interactive Applications. Silverlight has a roadmap that differs in my opinion from Flash, and realistically it both can be fused together or if you prefer to pick one then so be it.. choice is a brilliant thing to have.</snip>

    Huh?

    1) You just said Microsoft isn’t competing with Flash.

    2) Then you said Microsoft and Flash "overlap" and "intersect".

    3) Then you seem to say that if you step back you’ll see that comparing Microsoft (Silverlight?) to Flash feature vs. feature undervalues Microsoft’s RIA strategy.

    4) Then you say that you think Silverlight has a different roadmap than Flash (which is?).

    5) Then you say that you can use Silverlight and Flash together.

    So I missed the part where you explained why Microsoft isn’t competing with Flash. Here are a few questions that might help you explain why you think that:

    1) Do you use Silverlight to build the same types of applications that can be built with Flash?

    2) Is Silverlight targeted at any of the same markets as Flash?

    3) Would a prospective customer choose Silverlight instead of Flash?

    If you answer yes to any of the questions above, Microsoft is competing with Flash.

    Now my question is, why is Microsoft trying so hard to convince people that Silverlight DOES NOT compete with Flash? Could it be because competing head-on with Flash Player is extremely difficult to do? Might this also have something to do with why so many Microsoft staffers have been quoted telling customers and press that Silverlight competes with Adobe AIR, also a pre-1.0 product with a very small installed base?

    Mike Downey, Adobe

  2. Garry Trinder says:

    Ok, glad you’re a reader of my blog Mike 

    You’re isolating the context of discussion down to “Flash vs. Silverlight” which is what I stated (NOT) to do. This post is about the overall Microsoft RIA picture, product spectrum and eco-system to boot. In that Silverlight slots into the middle piece nicely for the total .NET solution delivery – which is what this post is really about. Key wording was “if you step back and look at the entire product spectrum (range of values by definition)” then no it doesn’t compete with Flash as it’s more about filling a gap in terms of providing .NET developers/designers the ability to re-use both skill set(s) and tools + services with minimal investment (thus I discussed our vision around how the tools play a role).

    To introduce Flash into this layered product cake, you’re effectively injecting new round of investment, community culture and language differentiation – whilst – not providing the ability to re-use media elements within to other parts such as WPF (.NET 3.x future growth etc).

    This is how the roadmaps differentiate. Silverlight for example is about empowering existing investment forward without having to worry about 3rd party solutions and making sure both ends line up depending on the mood of such 3rd party solutions (e.g.: Adobe/Macromedia had .NET remoting for Flash, it later was removed?, thus folks now need to make decision. Buy WebORB or adopt FDS etc..). It’s simply filling a gap in the overall Microsoft product story and Flash isn’t the sole reason for its existence… so no I honestly don’t believe Flash and Silverlight are competitors overall (at times of isolation yes  but this isn’t what the post was about). In fact I even said they can be *fused* together (e.g.: play .flv files as well as .wmv etc).

    That all being said, Silverlight and Flash do compete in other contexts.. that is why I stated “I think there is a lot of overlap and intersection points”. It really comes down to context of view? (e.g. how does the DLR compete with AMF? How does Flash compete in terms of providing C# developers the ability to produce Flash output? How deep are we to go? and so on..

    *shrug*

    Can’t comment on the Apollo vs. Silverlight discussion, as I’m pretty damn sure (do a search on other blogs to match) I’m the first to say “negative”, they are separate beasts.. can you provide evidence of this?

    Example of mine can be found at:

    http://www.tombray.com/?p=15

    “If Silverlight does likewise, go nuts. I’m also a little confused as to why Silverlight is put up against Apollo? has it evolved that fast from being the “Flash Killer” to now having the villagers raise their torches and pitchforks and announce it’s the “Apollo Killer”..”

    *shrug*

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