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Interview with Gill Cleeren and Kevin Dockx on their new book 'Microsoft Silverlight 5 Data and Services Cookbook' (by Packt Publishing)

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Silverlight Show
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0 comments   /   posted on May 09, 2012
Categories:   Interviews

NOTE: Until May 31st all Microsoft ebooks by Packt Publishing may be purchased with 30% discount, and all Microsoft print books – with 20% discount. Learn more on this offer here!

In this interview we talk to Gill Cleeren and Kevin Dockx about their just-released book ‘Microsoft Silverlight 5 Data and Services Cookbook’ by Packt Publishing. An overview of this book and sample chapter 8 ‘Talking to WCF and ASMX Services’ may be downloaded from Packt website.

SilverlightShow: Hi Gill and Kevin! Your new book ‘Microsoft Silverlight 5 Data and Services Cookbook’ has just been released. This is an updated version of Microsoft Silverlight 4 Data and Services Cookbook, published two years ago. What’s new in this version, and why should someone who already got your Silverlight 4 ebook upgrade to this one?

Gill: It’s correct to say that it’s an updated version for the fifth release of Silverlight. That means that all of the content we had in the original book has been reviewed, corrected where needed and updated to reflect all that’s new in Silverlight 5. Of course, Silverlight 5 brought quite a few new features with it in the area that we cover in our book. So we wrote recipes for all these new features. Things like implicit data binding, custom markup extension and so on are deeply covered.

We could have stopped there but we didn’t think that we were bringing enough extra value. That’s why we included several new chapters on things like MVVM, WCF RIA Services (which was covered in the first edition but has now received much more attention) and local storage. Also, since there are a lot of similarities between Silverlight development and Windows Phone development, we included around 10 recipes to leverage what you’ve learned there as well!

SilverlightShow: Gill, Kevin - which parts of the book have each of you authored, and what would you name as the top/most interesting concepts covered in those?

Gill: The process of writing a book isn’t very linear. In the very first stage, we build up the outline. When that’s ready, we start dividing who’s going to write what, mostly based on what we are personally most comfortable with, experience-wise. We try to stick to that as much as possible, since we want our books to be based on issues or common problems we’ve experienced and figured out ourselves.

In this new edition, the WCF RIA Services and MVVM parts is mostly Kevin’s while I’ve been covering services, data-binding and the WP7 topics.

Kevin: Well, as Gill said: we’ve tried to write the parts we’re most comfortable with, from real-life experience on projects. At the time we started writing, Gill already had quite a bit of experience with Windows Phone, while I had been working on various projects in which the MVVM pattern and RIA Services were used extensively – so it felt like a natural dividing the chapters and recipes to write as such.

In the end, what I’m most proud of is the Advanced WCF RIA Services chapter, as it contains a few recipes on topics that aren’t very easy to find information on (ValidationContext comes to mind), and the recipes that cover Windows Identity Foundation integration with Silverlight.

SilverlightShow: Could you share one or two topics from the book that have not been covered extensively anywhere else, including in web resources?

Gill: It’s hard to write things today that aren’t covered anywhere else. There are many great resources out there. The value of our book - at least we hope - is bringing a lot of practical problems together that we’ve both come across in our daily development work. I’ve seen people struggle getting their heads around MVVM. That’s a typical one. There are a whole lot of blog posts and articles on the topic. We have chosen to include that anyhow since we wanted to give our readers a clean and easy approach to this pattern. Since our book is aimed at LOB developers and the MVVM pattern really shines in that area, we couldn’t release a new version without covering that.

Kevin: The recipes concerning Windows Identity Foundation integration immediately come to mind. Everything concerning security is very important for business applications, and federation scenarios are often considered when you’re writing large LOB applications for (government) companies that have a multitude of applications on-site. Windows Identity Foundation really shines in this area, but it takes a bit of work to “get your head around it” and understand what’s really happening underneath the covers. In these recipes, we’ve tried covering that, and of course: explained how exactly the integration with Silverlight works.

SilverlightShow: Several chapters from the book are focused on WCF RIA Services. What’s the reason behind this broad coverage?

Kevin: The fact that we’ve included a lot more recipes on WCF RIA Services comes from real-life experience: we’ve noticed a lot of Silverlight LOB applications use this framework – after all, it’s really powerful and extensible, but you do need a good understanding of what’s really going on if you want to use it to its full extent. It’s very easy to get started with WCF RIA Services, but it’s not so easy to keep doing it “right”. In the previous book, we had one chapter covering this, but we felt this wasn’t enough and didn’t really do the framework justice. Splitting the topic up in two chapters allowed for more advanced scenarios and recipes, and allowed us to include some best practices.

In this book you’ve also included recipes related to building Windows Phone 7 business applications. In which aspect of Windows Phone development do developers struggle most, and how does your book help them?

Gill: Silverlight and Windows Phone 7 development are very closely related. I know it’s been said before, but it’s true: you can easily leverage your Silverlight knowledge on the phone. However, it’s not a plain one-on-one copy, each platform has its particularities. That’s what we are focusing on in the WP7 part in our book. We don’t include the basics - there’s other great books and resources available for that. Instead, like with the rest of the book, we focus on the data and service access which tends to have some things you need to keep in mind.

How about Silverlight 5? Where do Silverlight 5 developers fail mostly, and why? How does the book help them?

Kevin: Well, it’s not that different today than how it was last year, or the year before: it’s the basics of Silverlight development that are still unclear to a lot of people: data binding & async communication. Our book covers this, and in addition we’ve added the MVVM chapter, more or less a de facto standard for XAML applications, which heavily relies on data binding.

SilverlightShow: Does Silverlight 5 lack something to become a perfect technology for LOB?

Kevin: I was really disappointed when Silverlight 5 was released without WS-Trust support. This was the one big missing feature for LOB applications in Silverlight 4, and it’s still missing in Silverlight 5. Through the code provided in the WIF Training Kit we did get some parts of this, but it’s still far from perfect – truly a shame, and I’m afraid it won’t get fixed.

SilverlightShow: A lot’s been written about Silverlight and its impending “death” – does the world actually need a new Silverlight book?

Kevin: Still a hot topic, this one ;-) The focus on HTML5 as the technology for the future is a good one, in my opinion – but there’s a huge gap in the Microsoft stack for businesses that need applications that need to be developed today (or at least: there’s a gap in what is put forward as the technology of choice), and rolled out in the next 1-3 years. We’re talking about companies that need internal LOB applications – these are often restricted in browser usage and even OS. Silverlight is a mature technology today, has support for the next ten years, and it typically takes about 1/3 less time to develop the same app using XAML-based technology versus HTML/JavaScript based technology: this is why a lot of businesses choose for this technology today.

Next to that, Windows 8 is around the corner, and most of what is learned by developing XAML applications can be leveraged for building Windows 8 Metro applications. The future is centered around API building with multiple clients (intranet & extranet, phone, tablets) on top of that, and focusses more on skill reuse for the front-end than code reuse. HTML5 fits this bill if you’ve got the luxury to be able to work for modern browsers, XAML fits this bill even if you don’t – and if you’re working for large companies, often you don’t.

And finally, what does a cookbook format mean? How is it better than traditional book content?

Gill: The cookbook format is something people can relate with. When you’re developing an application and you’re stuck on a problem, you want an answer quickly. By opening up our book, developers can easily find a recipe that helps them with their problem at hand. It’s a practical approach, based on issues and problems we’ve faced ourselves in everyday application development. By using our own experience, we think we can closely match what problems other Silverlight developers are having.

While you can read the book cover-to-cover, it’s an easy format for a quick read or to find a solution for your problem!

Thanks Gill and Kevin for giving us an insider view on your book! We’ll keep updating SilverlightShow readers with news on the book, including reviews, discounts and availability of more sample chapters. Good luck, and look forward to more excellent content, including SilverlightShow ebooks, authored by you two!



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