I have recently been having some debates on Silverlight / Flash / (and even AIR) importance to the web. Some of these people in the discussion often say that AJAX enabled web sites are enough for what you need on the web. I whole heartedly disagree with this assessment, so I thought I would make a blog posting about what why I feel the importance of RIA development on the web is an important next step for our view of the web in the coming years.
Recently, I would say the past 5 or so years, we have been hearing a trendy word passed around called “Web 2.0”. To me, this merely means socializing on the Web in new and exciting ways. Sites such as Digg, Twitter, etc. have crafted a new age of our society and new ways for us to communicate. This is a great step forward for our generation. However, many have started to wonder what the next version of the Web will look like (“Web 3.0”).
I have a hypothesis of what will be more important to our next version of the web, and it will be somewhat seamless to the typical user that surfs the web. It will be a better organization of the domain layer, meaning, it will be spreading out your business logic and domain layer across multiple web services and Restful services that can allow for multiple consumption of the users data. This will allow you to access the data through Desktop application, Web applications, or consumption from other companies trying to tie into your data. Now, from this definition, there are a lot of people who are already there: Amazon, Ebay, Microsoft, etc. This is true, but once this becomes the norm way of creating content on the web, I think it will be an expected feature across all applications. To me the idea of “the next web version” will be the multiple ways of getting to your data and consuming that data.
All that being said, how does Silverlight, Flash, and AIR (web like desktop apps that consume web resources) play into this. There is an excellent article I read from nikhilk.net that talks about this: http://www.nikhilk.net/Entry.aspx?id=190. In it he describes the Reach vs Capabilities approach, where Classic Simple HTML is the broader reach, then AJAX apps, then AJAX + RIA (Silverlight and AIR), RIA apps, then Desktop apps that finally goes to greater capability. I think this is an accurate assessment of the technology at hand.
To me, Silverlight (etc) will be the new way to present web controls and feature components that give some depth and control to the user, in a presentation that has both speed and power. Silverlight gives the same flexibility as a windows application where the separation of concerns (domain objects) rests on your web services. It helps you really build out an enterprise system that will force you to create the idea of the “next generation of the web”. It will do this by really making you think how to structure your domain objects in interesting ways. This will enable you to create your domain layer mechanisms so that they can be consumed in multiple ways, such as an AJAX Website, Desktop application, and the RIA application. During this process, it will allow you to space out your business logic and domain logic across multiple servers, but still provide a very quick interface for the client, as well as maintain state storage locally and give the user a better environment to manipulate their data.
One thing I keep hearing is Silverlight is the next Active-X. It is really nothing like Active-X, except for the fact that it runs on the client side. Active-X was a way for the client to consume a dll created by the site and run that business logic locally to that client. Silverlight is a complete framework that runs on the client’s side. The domain layer “should be” created and utilized from the Server side (web services / Rest ful APIs). The point here is that Active-X can be any user created DLL that is registered to your browser and interacts with your OS. Silverlight is the partial .NET Framework running on your system, it doesn’t interfere with the OS or register any components to it. It is completely self contained, unlike Active-X. An active-x object could wreak havoc on your system, where-as a Silverlight application has restrictions on what it can do, because it is self contained in the Framework for it. It is nothing more or less than Flash, which is not considered Active-X in nature. What it is, is a fraction of the .NET 3.5 Framework running locally on the client, with a WPF/E (Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere) front-end that provides vector style graphics and a rich GUI and mechanisms to consume data in multiple facets.
All that being said, I do not think have a majority of your website in Silverlight is a good thing; far from it. Silverlight, to me, is great for doing complex User controls and Components that require speed, complex GUI, depth, and simplicity of use. I can foresee a lot of Admin Sections being in Silverlight, as well as key complex components, such as Events Calendar, Attendance components, Form Builder, etc. Really anything that requires a complex GUI that requires simplicity and depth.
I am working on a proof of concept application that is build on the ASP.NET MVC framework, that makes and includes a User Control written in Silverlight (which is developed to use the same MVC pattern), to complement and see how all the pieces fit together. I read an article at http://marlongrech.wordpress.com/2008/03/20/more-than-just-mvc-for-wpf/ by Marlon, that I am very fascinated to try out in Silverlight. The article talks about using the MVC + Mediator pattern to communicate between all of the pieces in WPF. However, since Silverlight is a subset of WPF, and I cannot find a way to do the EventManger and register events of a XAML view from another class at the moment, I am having to do a mix between MVC + M and a little more work on the view’s side to create events that the controller can consume. I am trying to do as little code as possible on the Views side and keep it all confined in the Controller side. It is coming along great, and I am really thing this is the way to bring MVC in Silverlight with ASP.NET MVC Framework to keep the separation consistent on both sides.
I am currently trying to write a lot of domain base classes and interfaces to help speed up the connection of these two technologies, to help mitigate the time spent including them in the same project. I am also working on a "drag in and work" Security ASP Membership feature for MVC ASP.NET by extending a starter kit found at http://www.squaredroot.com/post/2008/04/MVC-Membership-Starter-Kit.aspx by Troy to fit the needs that I typically use for the Memberships.
Before I leave off today, I would like to leave some links to some good Silverlight Examples:
Quick Silverlight Examples:
MSPaint Type Example: http://silverlight.net/Samples/2b1/ImageSnipper/testpage.html
Awesome Weather Tool: http://silverlight.r2musings.com/weatherwidget/default.aspx
Google with a stylus or mouse: http://www.tabletpcpost.com/search/
Upload Tool: http://fluxtools.net/emailphotos/
Slide show Image App: http://www.vertigo.com/SlideShow.aspx
some more neat ones at silverlight.net