Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

Summary: Microsoft is poised to release to manufacturing Silverlight 5. There's word from some of my contacts that this might be the last major release of Silverlight, but Microsoft isn't confirming or denying.

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Silverlight 5, the most recent -- and possibly last -- version of Microsoft's cross-platform browser plug-in, is poised to be released to manufacturing (RTM) before the end of November.

Several of my customer and partner contacts have told me they have heard from their own Microsoft sources over the past couple of weeks that Silverlight 5 is the last version of Silverlight that Microsoft will release. They said they are unsure whether there will be any service packs for it, and they are also not clear on how long Silverlight 5 will be supported by Microsoft.

(There's no end date yet on Microsoft's lifecycle page for free support for Silverlight for Silverlight 4. According to the page, Microsoft must give developers and customers a year heads-up before ending support for any given Silverlight version. Free support for Silverlight 3 ended in April 2011.)

One of my contacts said he believed that the final version of Silverlight 5 may only work with Internet Explorer on Windows and won't work on Mac OS platforms or with other browsers at all. (Silverlight 4 supports Windows and Mac OS X and the IE, Chrome and Safari browsers.)

Yes, I know -- everyone's been rushing to proclaim Silverlight dead for more than a year now. In fact, I'm frequently cited as the source of that prognostication, in spite of the fact that all I've actually reported is that Microsoft's strategy with Silverlight shifted and that Silverlight is no longer Microsoft's cross-platform runtime solution. Instead, Microsoft currently positions Silverlight as a tool for creating rich media, line-of-business and smartphone apps.  When I wrote about Microsoft's morphing Silverlight strategy back in the fall of 2010, I noted that company officials only committed to one more release after Silverlight 4 and said nothing more about the Silverlight platform's longer-term future.

Microsoft officials are remaining mum about whether there will be any more Silverlight releases after version 5. I asked again on November 8 to see if the Softies would say anything at all regarding the company's post-Silverlight 5 plans and was told by a spokesperson that the company had "nothing to share at this time regarding exact timing, future releases or support."

There is some anecdotal evidence suggesting Silverlight 5 may be the end of the road -- beyond the continued reassignments and/or defections of many at Microsoft formerly working on Silverlight and the major reorg affecting the Silverlight team earlier this year.

Here's what we know. In an October 26 Webcast with the Linked.Net user group, Scott Guthrie said that Silverlight 5 would ship "next month," meaning November. (I'm hearing the actual RTM date could be this week, in fact.)

Guthrie also said during the same Webcast that Microsoft was close to shipping Silverlight on "other devices" (meaning the Xbox 360, I'm assuming). In his responses to Webcast participants' questions about the future of Silverlight, Guthrie didn't mention anything about Silverlight being continued beyond Silverlight 5 or provide any indication there would be anything coming beyond Silverlight 5.

As many will be quick to note, Guthrie's decision not to talk about the future beyond Silverlight 5 may simply be due to Microsoft's increasing information lockdown on futures and roadmaps. It's also worth noting that Guthrie is, as of earlier this year, focusing on Windows Azure app development and not leading the Silverlight team.

Those caveats aside, I found Guthrie's choice of wording on the Webcast interesting. He talked about Microsoft's mission in making XAML "a first class citizen" and differentiating from its competitors using XAML. He emphasized that Microsoft is neither moving away from XAML nor discontinuing its support of XAML. He didn't say the same of Silverlight.

Is the distinction a big deal? I mean, do developers really care whether Microsoft continues to crank out new Silverlight releases, as long as those who want to use Silverlight to develop for Windows Phone, Windows 8 and Xbox can use their XAML skills to develop for those platforms for (some unknown number of) years to come?

One tech consultant with roots in the Microsoft world said the XAML/Silverlight lines are blurring.

“It’s pretty clear to me that the principles of Silverlight, including the use of XAML as a markup language, C# and VB .NET as programming languages, a streamlined .NET CLR (Common Language Runtime) profile, packaged deployment over HTTP and a sandboxed security environment, are alive and well in the native XAML/.NET approach to developing Metro-style apps on Windows 8. It may not be not Silverlight to the letter, but it’s Silverlight in spirit and natively supported by the operating system to boot," said Andrew Brust, a Microsoft Regional Director and founder of Blue Badge Insights.

(Brust noted, for the record, he hasn't heard whether Silverlight 5 is the last version of Silverlight or not.)

If Silverlight 5 is the end of the line for Silverlight, do you care? Why or why not?

Update: Looks like Microsoft isn't the only one wrestling with what to do with its rich media plug-in and runtime. As unearthed yesterday by my ZDNet blogging colleague Jason Perlow, Adobe announced on November 9 that it is discontinuing work on the mobile version of Flash and is instead focusing on HTML5. Adobe is continuing to develop new Flash releases but is focusing that work for PCs and mobile apps. It would be great to see Microsoft issue a similar, comprehensive statement about its future intentions with Silverlight....

Topics: Windows, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

    Frankly, I think that Silverlight isn't really necessary for the web any longer. HTML5 now offers many of the capabilities that HTML has traditionally not offered and for which Silverlight was created.

    Having said that, there are a number of businesses that have built many internal LOB apps/sites using Silverlight. I imagine that Microsoft will now start providing technologies that bridge the gap for those developers to help them continue to use their existing apps with little/no change.

    I DO wish, however, that Microsoft would contribute its ownership of Silverlight's "Smooth Streaming" to an open standards body. Smooth Streaming allows the Silverlight player to dynamically select different bitrate streams from video content based upon playback performance and bandwidth.
    bitcrazed
    • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

      @bitcrazed HTML5 really only adds the vector graphics. What about all the other great Silverlight features, primarily the ability to have a type-safe language running in the client? Other features include an amazing network stack, security features, 3D support, powerful media (including smooth streaming), performance, powerful LOB controls like DataGrid, DataBinding (and support for MVVM), Out-of-Browser, Generics, LINQ, C# Properties, the list goes on and on. HTML5 can do NONE of those things.

      For me the main reason to use Silverlight is to be able to precisely define the behavior, look and feel of my application with absolute consistency across browsers and platforms with a single piece of code. I do both HTML5 and Silverlight development and my Silverlight development is so much easier and the result is a better application.
      moorster
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @moorster

        For someone that claims to do HTML5, you don't seem to know much about its features.

        HTML5 doesn't only add vector graphics. SVG does, but that's been around in the good browsers for a long time now.
        One of the more interesting HTML5 elements in Canvas, which adds raster graphics, as well as a 3D rendering context called WebGL.

        Data grids and binding to RESTful services are the domain of toolkits which have been doing this with HTML 4 for years. HTML5 just adds more options.
        monteslu
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @moorster Would like to see some of your stuff. Please reach out to me at jmcbride@snapcrowd.com
        snapcrowd
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @moorster
        not to mention, SL uses .net and not javascript. JS is an excuse of a language which lacks all the power you mentioned from a far more standarized and robust class library instead of the sea of fragmented JS libraries out there which offer support only for some features in some browsers. It's a guessing game.
        neonspark
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @moorster

        [Other features include an amazing network stack, security features, 3D support, powerful media (including smooth streaming), performance, powerful LOB controls like DataGrid, DataBinding (and support for MVVM), Out-of-Browser, Generics, LINQ, C# Properties, the list goes on and on. HTML5 can do NONE of those things.]

        Sounds like you're talking about Java. Oracle just demoed JavaFX on iOS and Android at JavaOne last month. Some "take notice" stuff. Flash is dead, Silverlight is dying...but Java is reviving!
        Techboy_z
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @moorster

        3D support!? Silverlight 4 doesn't have hardware accelerated graphics! It was so bad we were going to cancel Netflix until we picked up a Revue for $80. Netflix never should have moved to Silverlight 4.
        tkejlboom
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @tkejlboom <br>Silverlight has had hardware accellerated graphics since version 3.<br><br>This however, doesn't mean that applications are suddenly faster. In a lot of cases, the application needs to be written with acceleration in mind so it can take advantage of the performance boost. (Though I doubt this is the case with your Netflix issue)<br><br>Since all of the graphics calls within Silverlight rely upon DirectX, you may want to check to see if you have the latest version of that and ensure your video driver is up to date in terms of DirectX compatibility. If you have a bad driver, it's potentially telling Silverlight that it has no accellerated graphics capabilities, and if that's the case, Silverlight will fall back to the software renderer. <br><br>I have a laptop that's several years old, and it runs SL4, Netflix and a few other silverlight apps with absolutely no trouble or performance problems at all.
        PolymorphicNinja
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @moorster sorry but a typical consumer could care less about all of the features that you mentioned (with the exception of 'powerful media'). You could certainly force the use of a browser plugin in an organization. Good luck trying that with a consumer-facing site.
        djcarter2326
    • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

      @bitcrazed I hope you are right. We just released a cloud storage platform with silverlight 4and planned to take advantage of silverlight 5 when it comes out. We always had intentions to move the platform over to html5 once the time was right. Does it matter, well it just depends how long MS plans to take to phase it out. Please check out the platform at www.SnapCrowd.com
      snapcrowd
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @snapcrowd <br>Don't confuse phased out with non-supported.<br><br>You can still run VB6 and Foxpro applications on Windows and they've not been supported for years.<br><br>I would still urge you to move over to HTML5 eventually, but I don't think it's urgent as long as you're fine with the limitations around cross platform consumption. Even if they stop supporting Silverlight tomorrow, that doesn't mean the plug-in, installers, etc to enable it disappear from the world.
        PolymorphicNinja
    • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

      @bitcrazed
      sorry but html5 is a good 10 years behind SL. The web development is fundamentally falwed at its core by creating applications using a document model. That is ridiculous. Apps are apps, and documents are documents. All the pain in web development is trying to make the document model simulate the UI paradigms we have had in desktop/native development for decades. Want modal dialogs? you have to write them from scratch. Want table layout panels/layout grids? good luck using clumsy html tables. The second problem with web apps is the over-reliance on CSS to define layout. In SL your xaml defines your layout. There is no need for a separate file. The look and feel is defined in styles which do not need to be concerned with layout. HTML5 is a bloated mess of content mixed with tags which controls some of the layout mixed with css which can control even more of the layout with js and DOM to control even other parts of the layout. It's a mess.

      Let's realize the problem: the web was created for documents, not apps. SL was created for apps. Maybe once HTML(6?) disposes with DOM and CSS for app creation then we will have a competent platform for web apps. until then creating web apps is more of hacking away until it is right instead of an exact science like modern native apps are.
      neonspark
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @neonspark Fine, but why SL? Why not JavaFX for RIAs?
        Techboy_z
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @techboy_z
        The biggest argument against Silverlight, Flash, etc is that they are proprietary, non-open platforms.

        JavaFX is another animal like that. Except Oracle doesn't have the internal development support that Microsoft does. If Microsoft AND Adobe are abandoning their efforts, Oracle should take note.

        I imagine a big goal within Microsoft is to make HTML5 development as easy and painless as Silverlight development. This will likely be done with tooling within the ASP.Net stack inside Visual Studio and Expression Blend. I wouldn't be surprised if Adobe starts to create competing products in this direction as well.

        Script# already compiles C#-ish code to Java script. Slap XAML compilation support on top of that, and you're not too far away from a framework very similar to Silverlight.
        PolymorphicNinja
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @neonspark
        But with proper tooling, it doesn't matter how HTML5 requires it's formatting to be. The end product has to conform to the expectation of the browser, but that doesn't necessarily mean the source code/resource organization has to match it.

        I predict at some point, HTML5 + javascript will become a common compilation target just like .Net assemblies, Java jars and native code have been.

        I know of at least a few projects (one at Google and Script# to name two) that are already doing this (at least with the Javascript side of things).
        PolymorphicNinja
      • RE: Will there be a Silverlight 6 (and does it matter)?

        @neonspark
        I couldn't agree more!
        leandroshan
    • Yes, it does matter.

      @bitcrazed

      How do you protect HTML5 IP? I was at a Microsoft tech conference recently and asked the presenter on a HTML5 session this question. His answer: none.
      kingkong88@...
      • YES, it does

        @kingkong88@...

        Silverlight is one of MS's best products and provides the best environment for web applications, with a UI that is second to none, secure and easy to use. Users are not presented with second rate web sites pretending to be an application but a 'Real' application with all the bells and whistles they are familiar with. Long Live SL 6 etc.
        jjkhart
        • YES - No daily Java updates required!

          @jjkhart Silverlight is one of MS's best products and provides a professional UI and environment for web applications that is second to none, secure and easy to use. Users are not presented with second rate (document) web site pretending to be an application but a 'Real' application. Long Live SL 6 & 7..
          jjkhart
      • YES, it does

        @kingkong88@...

        Silverlight is one of MS's best products and provides the best environment for web applications, with a UI that is second to none, secure and easy to use. Users are not presented with second rate web sites pretending to be an application but a 'Real' application with all the bells and whistles they are familiar with. Long Live SL 6 etc.
        jjkhart