I was “wowed” when Silverlight, Microsoft’s free web-browser plug-in that enables rich graphics in business applications, appeared on the technology scene back in 2007. With it, developers can do many things; for example, they transform relatively dull and static SQL Reporting Services dashboards into gleaming, interactive displays for business intelligence. Many of us invested significant time and money into shifting to this technology, and it was worth it – when finished, we heard our customers use words like “sexy” and “awesome” to describe the new look and user interaction capabilities of BI charts and visualizations.
With Microsoft’s continued silence on whether there will be another version of Silverlight after version 5, (and confirmed end of support for it after 2021), many IT decision makers have started to question what technology will continue to support our hungry appetite for business intelligence visualizations after Silverlight. HTML5 seems the obvious choice, but considering the effort involved in making any technology shift, are the reasons for switching compelling enough?
We came up with a list of key areas to consider when assessing the business value of moving to a new technology (in this case, from Silverlight to HTML5 for business intelligence applications), and found there are plenty of good reasons to make the switch.
Points for comparing HTML5 vs. Silverlight generally fall into three key areas:
- User Experience: Desired degree of user interactivity, visual richness of the interface, and performance speed.
- Development Resources: Development skills, overall costs, and supportability.
- Flexibility: Desired degree of browser, device, and 3rd party component choice.
How The User Experience Compares
Silverlight offers a very rich, visual experience, especially for streaming video. It provided video streaming for NBC’s coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics. Netflix uses it as well. In the early days of HTML5, the richness in visualizations didn’t compare very well, however, it’s come a long way since then. Third-party providers of HTML5-based components such as Kendo UI and Highcharts show there has been dramatic improvement in terms of the look and feel of the UI. Unless you are working intensely with media, HTML5 offers good choices for business intelligence visualizations. Even in the case of streaming video, some of the big names such as Netflix are already making plans to switch to HTML5 by the time Microsoft support for Silverlight 5 ends.
From an application performance, we’ve seen no negatives when switching to HTML5 (and in some cases, we’ve seen improvements).
From a Developer’s Point of View
Learning Silverlight can be a significant hurdle for some developers (who of course can learn anything, if they have the time). Coding in HTML5 can mean shorter development time, since it provides quick and easy integration with new Microsoft Web technologies such as ASP.NET Web API that offer lightweight RESTful /JSON based services instead of traditional WSDL/SOAP-based ones. It’s possible you’ll be simplifying with a move to HTML5 from Silverlight, especially if you leverage client side frameworks such as KnockoutJS to bind data. This often means there is much less code to support in the long run (HTML is cleaner and easier to read than XAML), and lower development costs overall to support HMTL5-based applications.
Flexibility Now and In the Future
Because the general feeling among developers and software creators is that Silverlight has a limited lifetime, most new 3rd party component development is happening for HTML5. Making the shift will allow for much more flexibility with choice of components, and HTML5 is a cross-platform, cross-device technology that will enable greater flexibility in deployment and potential for reusable code regardless of operating system platform. All modern browsers now have native support for HTML5, while browser based plugins are on their way out. (Neither Safari on iOS or Internet Explorer in Metro mode on Windows 8 support plug ins.)
The bottom line seems to be that unless your application has very intensive demands for streaming video, it makes sense to consider the shift to HTML 5 now for better flexibility, supportability, and cost savings in the future.
If you have further questions about switching from Silverlight to HTML5, leave them below, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.