Silverlight was Microsoft's answer to Adobe Flash, an application framework with which to build rich internet applications. It was launched in April 2007 to much fanfare, albeit mainly from Microsoft. Version 5 brought GPU accelerated video decoding and 64-bit support in December of last year. It also brought the conclusion of the Silverlight story, as this version is set to be the final release. Silverlight is no more. Or so people have been speculating, as there has yet to be any official word from Microsoft. Its lifespan might be prolonged as a Windows Phone platform, but it seems likely it will cease to exist as a browser plugin.
However this article is not about SIlverlight per se, but rather its somewhat fractured relationship with SharePoint. If we have really seen the final installment of Silverlight, what does that mean for its use with SharePoint in the future? Let’s start by seeing how it is used today.
How SharePoint 2010 Utilizes Silverlight
Silverlight has found some favor with developers as a tool with which to build rich webparts. Video is a popular example, and various media player webparts exist that make use of Silverlight's ability to deliver good quality video over the web. In fact the out-of-the-box SharePoint 2010 media webpart is a Silverlight control. A number of third party webparts also exist that use Silverlight to interact with pictures and audio in interesting ways.
SharePoint 2010 also includes a generic Silverlight webpart, which can be used to host a specific Silverlight application by referencing the document library URL it was deployed to. This method allows such applications to be easily added to content pages. Microsoft tried to encourage this path of integration with an official "blueprint" for Silverlight and SharePoint. This consisted of source code, guidance notes and a number of sample applications.
The out-of-the-box SharePoint 2010 interface also makes use of Silverlight to provide a slick experience for end users. The list selection screen is a good example, offering animation and interaction effects provided by Silverlight.
The Future of SharePoint and Silverlight
But if Silverlight 5 really is to be the final release, what will happen in the future with SharePoint? It seems likely that Silverlight's slow growth as a SharePoint development tool will stall, leading it to be replaced altogether in the next version of the product. No one really knows what it will be replaced by, but the smart money would seem to be HTML5.
Microsoft seems to be making a strategic decision to back HTML5 for web and app-style development. Windows 8 is using HTML5 as its application platform, so it seems likely that the next version of SharePoint will fall in line with this vision.
Expect out-of-the-box Silverlight webparts and Silverlight powered interfaces to disappear. The exception will probably be the "host a Silverlight application" webpart, which may still remain to support any existing legacy implementations. SharePoint 2010 made a big push with web accessibility, greatly improving the HTML its pages and webparts produced. I would expect the back-end and admin pages to see an overhaul in the next version of SharePoint and for both to use HTML5. Whilst the accessibility of these pages is probably less important, it is unlikely Silverlight will remain purely to provide some interface bells and whistles.
I expect to see all traces of Silverlight disappear from the next version of SharePoint. It has been a powerful and useful tool for rich media and interfaces, but it seems its niche approach has run its course. SharePoint 2012 (or 2013) will likely adopt HTML5 for everything Silverlight has previously been used for. Put bluntly, SharePoint and Silverlight have no future at all.
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