Although Microsoft has given a cold shoulder lately to its Silverlight rich Internet plug-in platform, it's preparing version 5 for release soon, and some users expect Silverlight to have a long life ahead of it. But Microsoft's activities otherwise leave Silverlight's relevance, if not fate, open to question.
Microsoft released the Silverlight 5 release candidate stage on Sept. 2, suggesting the final release is not far off. But at its recent Windows 8 debut party, Microsoft gave the impression it was backing off its commitment to Silverlight. Opting instead for HTML5 capabilities, Microsoft revealed no plug-ins would be allowed on the tablet-oriented Metro version of the Internet Explorer browser in Windows 8. That includes Silverlight in addition to the competing Adobe Flash.
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Microsoft declined to discuss Silverlight's future or place in its strategy, but many people believe Microsoft's low-key approach belies an intent to keep Silverlight going. "I think Silverlight still has several years of life left. Windows 8 is at least a year away, and Windows 7 is a very stable OS that will be a standard for many more years," says analyst Rob Sanfilippo of Directions on Microsoft. "Silverlight will also be supported in IE10 running in the desktop legacy mode on Windows 8."
Developers concur. "Right now, we're looking at about a year before Windows 8 is published," and another year before it is adopted, says Tony Champion, a Silverlight developer at ChampionDS, which has been building Silverlight applications predominantly for use in oil and gas exploration. "I think Silverlight, for at least the next few years, will still exist," concurs Dennis Doomen, a developer who maintains an open source project called the Silverlight Cookbook for building enterprise systems using Silverlight.
Microsoft muddles its messaging
Still, Microsoft could be more vocal with its plans for Silverlight, Champion says. CTOs are becoming concerned about Silverlight because of a lack of discussion about it, he adds. Developer Billy Hollis also is wondering what directions Microsoft will take with Silverlight, such as how Silverlight relates to the WinRT APIs in Windows 8: "One thing we don't know -- and [that] makes decisions about what to do difficult -- is will it be easy to migrate Silverlight apps into WinRT some day."
A look at an upcoming Microsoft developer conference should reassure Silverlight users. Next month's Visual Studio Live conference in Redmond, Wash., does feature several sessions on Silverlight from such people as Champion and Hollis, and Silverlight also received several mentions at the recent Microsoft Build conference, where Windows 8 dominated.