Silverlight challenges the RIA supremacy of Flash, Flex, and AIR with superior development tools and design tool integration
Visual Studio 2010 and Silverlight 4 Tools for Visual Studio 2010 and WCF RIA Services and tools install painlessly and include additional RIA services for SOAP and JSON endpoint mapping. Developers now gain an editable design surface with drag-and-drop data binding and property settings, as well as unified debugging inside a world-class IDE. Further, the ability to cross-compile the same code base for both .Net and Silverlight helps reduce dev cycles.
Under the hood, Microsoft's XAML parser was also given a much needed overhaul. Richer namespace management, direct content encapsulation, better whitespace handling, and error reporting all improve the framework.
Microsoft has a second authoring tool for Silverlight in Expression Blend 4, a user interface design tool akin to Adobe Catalyst. Expression Blend provides a graphical interface to prototype and thread Silverlight UI interactions without ever touching XAML.
Strictly a design tool in version 3, Expression Blend has been elevated to a Visual Studio-type coding facility in version 4 with full IntelliSense support and drag-and-drop element binding that really streamlines the process. I found it both more comprehensive and easier to work in than Adobe Catalyst.
Expression Blend wows with enhanced features like conditional behavior modeling. The new DataStore, a local dictionary for variable and state information, truly reduces coding to mere configuration, helping to close the designer-developer divide.
One of the bigger stumbling blocks for developers in Silverlight 3 was plugging in line-of-business data. Although these hurdles were surmountable via WCF (Windows Communication Foundation) services, Silverlight itself lacked connection options (such as Entity Framework and ADO.Net) available for Web and desktop apps. With WCF RIA Services in Silverlight 4, n-tier apps now have more flexibility in data access, validation, and authentication. By tapping the ASP.Net mid-layer, developers can better manage data-driven apps across the network.
New COM Interop access for trusted applications is a no brainer for Microsoft Office shops looking to use local system libraries. And finally, the the ability of Silverlight 4 applications to draw on Microsoft's MEF (Managed Extensibility Framework) -- a .Net 4 addition that simplifies pushing code updates -- is yet another hallmark of the professional-grade tools that Silverlight developers have at their disposal. Flash developers never had it this good.
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