Papa's Perspective

Silverlight Skills Carry Over to Windows 8 'Metro Style' Apps

Windows 8 is an early preview, but has enough of its shape to show XAML developers that their skills are applicable.

Good news, XAML developers: In "Windows 8," your skills are still valuable. The past year included some rough spots for many XAML developers and designers who are trying to make sense of their future. Where is Silverlight heading? What's the road like for Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)? The good news is that we now know that Windows 8 has a plan for both XAML/C# and HTML5/JavaScript (and Visual Basic and C++) developers to build "Metro style" apps.

As a former evangelist for Silverlight and Windows 8, believe me, I understand there are many questions about the future. Quite often these questions are shaped by where we work, the work we do and other influencing factors. The binding factor between most of the folks asking these questions is their investment in their Silverlight skills. It's a fair question, as folks want to know that they've made a good choice and their choice will have a future.

A Path for XAML Developers
What about developing for Windows 8 with XAML, which was recently unveiled at the Microsoft BUILD conference in September? Windows 8 is an early preview but has enough of its shape to show XAML developers that their skills are indeed very applicable. Is it perfect or whole? Of course not, it's a preview. But the key is that there's a path for XAML developers, and it's a good path.

On the coding side, there's a path for developers to write with C# and Visual Basic using many of the APIs that they're familiar with in the new Windows Runtime (WinRT). The Visual Studio 11 Developer Preview now has more features, including a ton of the ones that were formally only included in Expression Blend. Of course, XAML is still XAML, the intrinsic controls haven't changed much, and there are even some new controls that pertain specifically to Windows 8 Metro apps (GridView and FlipView, for example). The bottom line is that it won't take long for any XAML-based developer to get up to speed on Windows 8 Metro apps. There are new aspects to learn, too, like integration with Windows 8 and its new features such as charms, settings and search. But these are really just new APIs that can be learned and integrated into Metro apps.

So, if you're skilled at developing with Silverlight, WPF and Windows Phone, then you already have a leg up on learning to build Metro apps with XAML.

Metro Style or Bust?
Microsoft said that Silverlight (and all of your desktop apps) run on Windows 8 in the desktop. So before you start trying to figure out whether you can convert your project to a Metro app, you should carefully consider the business value for doing so. That's a question that you're most certainly more qualified to answer than I am.

Some apps will benefit, some won't, and some may fall in between. It's these tweeners that are interesting. Perhaps there's an app that makes sense as a desktop app, but a new version of it could add value as a Metro app. Maybe the audience is different: maybe this is not a conversion, but rather an expansion. Again, these are questions you should be asking yourself and then deciding where to go.

Expanding Your Skillset
Technology changes. It's the beautiful and often painful part of our industry. We learn, refactor and relearn. You could say our work lives are a bit like an iterative and Agile project. XAML skills are still valuable for both Desktop and Metro apps on Windows 8. What about HTML5? If you want to learn HTML5, JavaScript and CSS to write Metro apps, I say go for it. I've got a background in all of those technologies and experiences with the pros and cons of both.

But let's not confuse the issues here: Just because there are options does not mean one has to win and the others have to lose. The development options for Windows 8 will appeal to different types of developers.

All that said, I strongly feel that having skills in both XAML/C# and HTML5/JavaScript/CSS will only enhance your own skillset and value. Also, truly understanding how to develop with both will give you a balanced perspective on their merits. I intend to continue to work with both sets of technologies. And that is Papa's Perspective.

About the Author

John Papa is a Microsoft Regional Director and former Microsoft technical evangelist. Author of 100-plus articles and 10 books, he specializes in professional application development with Windows, HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, Silverlight, Windows Presentation Foundation, C#, .NET and SQL Server. Check out his online training with Pluralsight; find him at johnpapa.net and on Twitter at twitter.com/john_papa.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Mar 5, 2012 Prabhjot India

My heart says silverlight Is on, but brain says HTML 5. All depends on numbers of wp7 and win tablets in the market... If no numbers then no developers... I haven't heard people talking objective c v/s HTML 5 ..they r relaxed they have numbers.. At the end it's the numbers that will decide.

Thu, Dec 8, 2011

I don't know about the rest of you, but I see a trend happening here. The W3C is attempting to take html 5, css, and javascript in the direction of Silverlight, but the new features of Silverlight are developing too fast for them to catch up. Also... someone mentioned tablets as not being the right platform and phones being the right platform, I believe that is half correct anyway... the phone is the place to be but the batteries suck, too many tasks creating too much battery usage, and as tablets go, most professionals I know seem to prefer the 7" tablet. Guess what the phones are getting bigger and I am guessing will eventually find a decent battery structure and end up around the 7" area, maybe not quite that big but close. As for the one guy saying Silverlight is dead... good luck with that... if you haven't noticed there is a lot of buzz about moonlight bringing Silverlight to android and I would guess IPhone and IPad are not too far behind if they want continue staying on top. As for no major companies using Silverlight, ever heard of a company by the name of Netflix... yeah that doesn't work on flash buddy. This isn’t meant to bash you, but open up some insight into some shortsightedness of your comments. Peace out! I personally think xaml has a good foothold right now, not sure Silverlight will last forever, but I think we have it locked into a production environment for at least a few more releases until all the platforms come together more and the lightweight version of wpf is no longer needed. By my insight, XAML is not going away that quick though, and I think Microsoft is on the right path. They see the trend to the tablets, they see the gold they have in Silverlight/wpf/xaml and seem to be pushing it forward and integrating it more into both .NET and the other platforms along with integrating their live content, Xbox, kinect, windows, Microsoft in education, streaming, and cloud services well. Apple doesn't have all of those avenues to pursue and neither does android, but they all are working together more and more all the time. Apple is falling behind on the integration and I fear it will end up cutting them out of the picture more if they don't change their ways. They have some good concepts and I hope they move to integrate more vs. segregate and build on their experiences with Microsoft and others like sonny might be a good fit with them. That was a problem Microsoft had a while back that cost them some market share with IE. Parnerships on ventures is the latest trend in development drive for standardization and eventually anyone not on board will miss the boat, and hopefully can swim well. I hope all of the players currently in the industry can move forward and work together. Some already are.

Fri, Dec 2, 2011 George GR

HTML is with us the last 20 years. In real life the equivalent is maybe 100 years. Plug Ins where there almost since the beginning. And they were there cause HTML could not cover market needs. What makes us thing that it will cover market needs now? I don't think so. What happen is that HTML in this version got the same features with the plug ins. Let some time pass and you will see again what will happen. With the update cycle of HTML (average 5 years) i think there is space for plug ins. Besides between HTML/JS vs C#/VB/XAML for LOB applications i prefer C#/VB/XAML no matter what.

Thu, Dec 1, 2011 Mark Eilenberger Colorado

Stop whining and get on the train. Geez

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 Steve TX

Microsoft will never break silence on Silverlight because they can’t without making a lot of people upset. They will simply continue to support it like other legacy technologies and will only add minor features to it moving forward. Adobe finally admitted that Flash for the Mobile Device would no longer be supported last month. That is the writing on the wall for Silverlight. Logically Silverlight will never succeed since it cannot run on 95% of all smartphones and tablets. Everyone wants apps to run on smartphones and tablets and unless Microsoft can figure out a way to get Silverlight to run on these devices it will be a huge uphill battle.

Wed, Nov 30, 2011 Indy Wollerau

The problem is Microsoft's silent/secrecy when it comes to their commitment about Silverlight. That is the root of all these FUDs! I have read countless postings and blogs re. Silverlight vs. HTML5 just like this article. But the bottom line is, as long as Microsoft continues their silence re. Silverlight and all you're hearing from them OFFICIALLY is about HTML5/Javascript (this is evolution going backward) then businesses (I'm talking about people on the management level like CEO, CIO) will think twice about investing in Silverlight or completely abandoning it all together.

Tue, Nov 29, 2011 Sam Grow Houston, TX

Silverlight is dead and here’s why. Apple will never allow it to run on the iPhone or iPad and Google will never allow it on Android. After years of sitting and watching Silverlight evolve, our company decided to take on its first Silverlight project about 6 months ago. One month into the project we had to cancel it because the customer assumed it would run on an iPad. Their initial specs called for a web based product and Silverlight seemed like a good fit but they never talked about it running on a tablet. When we told them it would not work on an iPad, iPhone or any other mobile device that killed it and we were forced to switch to ASP.NET MVC. What’s great about ASP.NET MVC is that it works on all Windows and Mac browsers and also all mobile devices. So it solved our problem for the customer. Why would you ever want to write a LOB App using Silverlight if it will never run on a smartphone or tablet??? Like it or not, everyone has a smart phone and most everyone will have a tablet in the next year. It’s getting to a point everyone expects LOB apps to run on Windows as well as you iPhone, Android and iPad. The killer for me is that Silverlight does not and will never run on a mobile device except Windows Phone 7 which nobody uses. Another sign is that no major companies or products use Silverlight except Microsoft. Another issue with Silverlight is it takes longer to load in a browser than an equal project created in ASP.NET. So the fact that it’s slower and does not run on a mobile phone or tablet is a deal breaker for most consumers. I see Microsoft moving forward with ASP.NET MVC over Silverlight now and then focusing on HTML 5. WPF is also dead because WinForms can do most of what you can do in WPF. Switching to WPF would be a ton of work for most established companies. If it was 10-15 years ago, XAML might have worked out but it’s too late now. Microsoft should go back and focus on extending ASP.NET and WinForms and stop the confusion in the market. It will be an uphill battle for Microsoft to make a dent in the Mobile market today. They blew it and still don’t get it. Focus on Windows, Office and VS and embrace iOS and Android.

Tue, Nov 29, 2011 Tad Anderson PA

WPF skills carry over, NOT SILVERLIGHT. XAML on Windows is WPF, not a browser plugin. That is great, but does nothing for products like SharePoint. Recently summarize my current stace in my blog "Microsoft moved my cheese again and I don't really care to find it." http://realworldsa.blogspot.com/2011/11/microsoft-moved-my-cheese-again-and-i.html

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 Jules London,UK

Our CTO has cancelled our Silverlight Development project, resulting in a couple of lay-offs. This was because of the Silverlight vs HTML5 rumours and we could not convince him that Microsoft had any commitment to Silverlight in the medium 5 year term. So all this doubt and confusion really hurting us Developers who were, and still are sold on Silverlight Technolgy as being superior for the delivery of LOB Apps than HTML5/Javascript. We are aware that Silverlight Plugins may stil be available in Windows 8 Desk top mode, but the lack of coherance with the WinRT platform just shows us that Microsoft don't have a clear strategy. Having said that I am not sure where else we can now go to deliver the same superior experience, with a similair confusion in Adobe Air platform. It all feels like Evolution going backwards ! If MS were smart they would simply just leave Silverlight both inside and Outside the WinRT Browser. Seriously why not. The consumers can then see how superior Silverlight is to HTML5 Apps, and opt to choose Windows 8 Tablets.

Fri, Nov 18, 2011 Eric Vienna

I am beginning to believe that Redmond's "secrecy" about their roadmap isn't secrecy -- they really don't have a roadmap. I am a long-time MS developer, but I feel a need to start investigating other frameworks out of self-protection.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 Peter Jordan Hamilton, NZ

It's likely to be a relatively long time before the Metro GUI has a significant presence on corporate desktops, so I don't think that WPF/XAML developers have much to fear for at least 5 years. The future of Silverlight/XAML in the RIA space is a separate issue and my guess is that Microsoft will have to gain a decent share of the Mobile Device market for SL to survive.

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 E. Larsen Florida

HTML5 and javascript are just not powerfull enough to do the things which Silverlight can do. The browser will always need plug-ins because the HTML standards move at an incredibly slow pace. It takes the W3C to agree on a set of standards and then longer for the browsers to implement them. Plug-ins can move at a more rapid pace and always lead the advances we need for cutting edge things to happen in the browser. For example, how else would a person be able to upload large files effectively using HTML/javascript? you need silverlight/java to chop the files up into pieces and send them in smaller chunks.. which is the most reliable way to upload large files. Thats just one example.. Face it.. browsers will always need plug-ins to push the industry. We can't just rely on W3C to come out with new standards 5 years down the road. Why microsoft is killing Silverlight after ver5 is a mystery.. maybe they just havent figured out the next big thing to add to Silverlight. Also, silverlight looks the same in every browser which is way cooler then having to test your HTML UI in 5 different browsers everytime you make a change. My point is.. is that plug-ins will always be needed in my opinion because advances in RIA for HTML move way too slow

Thu, Nov 17, 2011 Fallon Massey

Seriously, this article is a joke... right? XAML skills will cary over? Yes, until their strategy changes again. Get real, Win8 is really DUMB! First, who wants their tablet tied to their laptop. Microsoft has misread the tablet market. The pnone is a NEEDED device, the Desktop is NEEDED, a tablet is less versitile than a phone, and less capable than a desktop, AND it isn't NEEDED. the tablet is the throw away device, and needs to be about $50, and it's getting there, so MS better revise those $ projections. Finally, Win8 is going to confuse the heck out of consumers. If they bought a tablet hoping to get full Windows in the bargin, I think the expectation of touch on the desktop will upset them. mixing these two mindsets may be a challenge for the non-technical, but we'll see.

Sun, Nov 13, 2011 R. Lawson

"If I can write an application from HTML5,CSS,JS that will work on other platforms eg: iDevice,Droids what makes windows Metro special? " Based on what I have seen, what makes Metro different is that it's really a business model to deliver consumer applications - ie a market place where all the applications conform to a standard similar to the marketplace for mobile applications. I'm not sure what the story is for LOB applications, but I suspect it may be used for that as well. Personally, I'm reluctant to enter that space because the restrictions imposed and what I feel is an uneven playing field. What I've witnessed with the WP7 market concerned me. Microsoft positioned their products above everyone else's. So, I don't think it's really a good idea to be in a market controlled by a company that will be competing against you. When you rent space in a mall to sell retail, the mall doesn't setup shop next to yours. Their business is real-estate. I'm basing my comments on a keynote I watched online... so still trying to figure out Metro. Someone please correct me if I'm out in left-field here on Metro. I'm curious to know if there can be independent metro marketplaces, if apps must be distributed through the Microsoft marketplace (ie I may have a LOB metro app I only want to make available to users in a single company). I'm not quite sure "what's in it for me" as a developer, and what's in it for clients when it comes to LOB app dev. I'm sure there are some benefits, I just don't know what all of them are yet.

Sat, Nov 12, 2011 TheDude

If I can write an application from HTML5,CSS,JS that will work on other platforms eg: iDevice,Droids what makes windows Metro special? if Silverlight will run in Metro mode things will be different.

Fri, Nov 11, 2011 Daniel Pavlic Croatia

Completely agree with every comment here. Microsoft is doing a terrible job at informing people what their plans are regarding Win8 and Silverlight. What is Windows without a RIA platform - nothing. Useless. A toy, like iPhone. Fortunately we have AIR, and other less known RIA frameworks. But WinRT and Metro are again a new obstacle - interested how will Adobe deal with it.

Thu, Nov 10, 2011 R. Lawson Tampa

"Again, being clear here I am not talking about the tech strategy, just the communication of it. " Agreed. I want to know what the future RIA platform is on the Microsoft stack and what technology I will use to get the "SLOOB" experience, and what the migration path will look like. Microsoft is offering no answers. Most information comes from blogs and leaks. This may help Microsoft sell more tools (I think it is likely harming sales), but it is also harming the reputations of Microsoft developers/partners because our advice to leverage Silverlight is being questioned. I can't tell them "not to worry, because XYZ technology is on the horizon and we have a migration plan". Truth be told, I don't know the future of RIA on the Microsoft platform. And there isn't a plan that includes Microsoft. I've seen technology come and go, but I felt as if Silverlight was way too valuable as a LOB platform to be dropped. Microsoft is killing plugin technology, but I found that Silverlight was far more compelling out of browser and not as a browser plug-in. Why throw out the baby with the bath water? The Silverlight brand has too much baggage so at this point I want SLOOB but not marketed as Silverlight. The technology is awesome, but the brand is on life-support.

Thu, Nov 10, 2011 John Orlando, FL

R. Lawson - I agree on the trust part a bit. We've all grown to like how transparent Microsoft had become. Bloggers, insider programs, evangelists, MVP programs, events, .... Microsoft was great at driving what they are doing to the community. On this issue the message was much less clear. I'm not sure if this indicative of a new communication strategy or if its just a blip in the evolution. Again, being clear here I am not talking about the tech strategy, just the communication of it. If technology X is alive and well, as a dev I'd like to know. If it's time to shift, I'd like to know that too.

Thu, Nov 10, 2011 John Papa Orlando

Anonymous - Fair point about LOB apps. However I think you'd be doing a disservice to yourself and your company if you did avoid MSFT based on that you like Silverlight.

Wed, Nov 9, 2011 R. Lawson Tampa

I could almost live with the death of plugins - although it would be painful. What I find difficult to accept is the possibility that Silverlight Out of Browser which is used heavily in LOB applications could be a victim here. What platform going forward will give us the deployment model of a web application, target non-Microsoft operating systems, while giving us the user experience of a desktop application? Why kill Silverlight when Out of Browser fills this need? I'm now reading about Silverlight ending at vs 5. If true, it makes no sense for any new development to be on the SL platform, out of browser or not. Currently I'm doing AIR development, but Adobe just announced the death of Flash. AIR (the SL OOB equivilent) appears to be living on but I'm finding it difficult to trust vendors these days - and they are not talking straight with us. If SL is dead, I shouldn't be hearing this from Mary Jo Foley. I should be hearing it from Microsoft directly.

Tue, Nov 8, 2011

Hi John. I don't think the concern is with Silverlight Skills (XAML/C#/VB.NET) transferring, and being applicable to Windows 8 Metro Style Apps. The concern is the heavy investments many companies have made in Silverlight as a platform for its cross platform (Windows & Mac) support for both LOB and Client applications. As an avid MS supporter, if MS ditches Silverlight I will certainly ditch MS.

Fri, Nov 4, 2011 John Papa Orlando, FL

Edgar/Fredrik, Thanks for the feedback. I've had this discussion with more people than you can imagine :) I have learned that there is no answer that will satisfy everyone. To be clear, everything here is purely my opinion and not that of my current nor former employers. I see no reason to stop a project that is being written in Silverlight. If you have a project in SL, why would you stop or change it? You probably started because it worked well for you. Has that changed? Likely not. You say you are building internet apps which I assume are for a business. Silverlight did not change ... it still works for that. I'm not saying your concerns are wrongly founded, but I am saying that the projects written in Silverlight made sense because it solved a problem you had. That has not changed. Continue onward. If you are writing an app today that has to reach multiple devices, I would consider looking at HTML5/JS/CSS. I believe XAML is more productive and has a sweet spot, but for device reach HTML5 is a better option if I was making that choice today. Tech changes. Expect that we will be talking about a new tech in a year from now, or the year after that and so on. In my experience, some folks want someone to tell them that SL is going to live forever or that SL will have 5 more versions. I doubt MSFT or any company is going to commit to anything like that, not with how fast everything changes. You don't have to like it nor agree with it. But that's the answer. And for me ... I will continue to do Silverlight, HTML/Javascript, ASP.NET, and more.

Thu, Nov 3, 2011 Edgar Utah

The problem is we still don't have a good answer on the future of Silverlight. It's great that our Silverlight skill set is going to be applicable on Window 8 using Metro, but Metro doesn't solve the same business problem that Silverlight solves, creating rich applications that run in the browser. This is important to us, because we've invested a lot of our time and our employers resources into developing applications using Silverlight for the express purpose of meeting this business need of creating rich internet applications. From my perspective it isn't good enough that my skills will still be relevant on the desktop. If I was concerned about making Desktop applications I would have been writing them in WPF. However I'm not concerned with making desktop applications, because my employer is paying me to write applications that can be delivered via the browser to any PC or Macintosh machine, so for the love, please tell us did we make the right call when we made a bet on Microsoft's Silverlight technology? Is Microsoft committed to the future of Silverlight?

Wed, Nov 2, 2011 vlad

Apps are what is needed to make your smartphone smart and unique.Im fond of app creating and find it really helpful to use site like snappii.com where i can build apps in minutes.

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