10 Things You Should Know About Microsoft's Silverlight

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4. Silverlight UI Is just Markup -- Like HTML

XAML is the Silverlight's lingua franca for user interface design. You may already be familiar with another popular markup language, HTML. HTML files are plain text that contain information that tells the Web browser how to render the look and feel of a Web page. XAML does the same thing. However, instead of the browser interpreting the instructions about how to render the file, the Silverlight runtime does the rendering.

XAML being markup is important because it can be created dynamically. No matter what tools your developers use for server-side Web development, you are probably creating dynamic HTML to create pages. This technique is so compelling because you can create reusable pieces of HTML that you use on your site. A good example is the design of the main page of most Web sites. Normally, the header and footer (and often the left and right side borders) are reused throughout a Web page.

Because XAML is just markup, you can use server-side technologies to dynamically create XAML, just as your development teams already do with HTML. The markup language is different, but the techniques are the same.

5. Silverlight and AJAX Technologies Are Complementary

The Web is evolving. When the Web was new, back in the 1990s, everyone warned that developers should move as much as possible to the server so the application could scale. While this works well technically, it hampered the user experience. Now Asynchronous JavaScript and XML is all the rage. Simply put, AJAX writes code directly in the browser to enable better user interaction. The canonical example of this is Google maps (or Microsoft's Live maps, if you prefer).

Silverlight follows this model by allowing more expressive user interfaces in the browser. Exchanging data between the server and client using AJAX technologies (no matter which AJAX library you happen to use) allows Silverlight applications to be even more powerful. Using the rich user-interface model of Silverlight with the strong data-transfer model of AJAX allows for incredible interactivity without forcing users to wait for page refreshes.

6. Silverlight Allows Developers and Designers to Work Together

The Web has forced development teams to think more about design and aesthetics. Responsive user experience and intuitive interfaces have become the norm instead of the exception. This usually happens by involving artistic and user experience skills in application development. Today, that is accomplished by employing artists to come up with the design for a Web site.

However, the assets that artists use and deliver are usually different from the tools that developers use. Typically, artists deliver image files (e.g., Photoshop or .jpg files) or (in advanced cases) HTML wire frames for developers to integrate into a project. No matter what technology you use, these designs must be integrated into the Web application code. As the design evolves, this integration happens over and over. Silverlight suggests a better development story. The Microsoft tool set for Silverlight is a mix of traditional development tools, like Visual Studio, and new tools that are geared for designers, called Expression Studio.

For Silverlight, the primary design tool is Expression Blend, which allows creation of XAML in a way that is comfortable and familiar to designers. Using Blend is like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop. The big difference is that it uses the same artifacts the developers use. Blend works with the same project files, XAML and JavaScript files as does Visual Studio. When a design is created and polished, there is no integration step to use it in Silverlight. Designers can see their designs interact with the same logic that developers add as a project matures. Doing so helps designers and developers to work closely together.

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