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Ken Azuma on "Is Silverlight 3 ready for business"

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0 comments   /   posted by Ivan Dragoev on Apr 16, 2009
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Categories: White Papers


Silverlight 3 is on its way with tons of new goodies. But each technology has to be well accepted from the business users in order to be successful. But what can help the business to take such a decision? We, at, think that sharing experience is a good start.

This article is a part of our “Shared Experience” initiative that aims to give a place to every person or company that has experience in a commercial Silverlight product or project to share that knowledge. If you are one of them and you are willing to participate, download and answer our questions. In return, we will publish not only your answers, but a white paper of the Silverlight solution you have.

Let’s take a look at what Ken Azuma from 2ndFACTORY has shared with us.

Who Ken Azuma is?

Ken Azuma has dedicated most of his work life to Rich Internet Application development projects using various RIA technologies. He is working as catalyst to blend the designer, developer and business decision maker areas of a RIA project.

After years of considering how developers and designers can work together in order to deliver a high quality product, Ken's perspective on RIA development has widened from that of a programmer to that of an architect. Ken inspires talented people from across the developer and designer communities with his vision of RIAs and the possibilities they offer.

Ken`s company – 2ndFACTORY – is formerly known by web agency and now they call themselves "Hybrid Integrator". They develop the software applications with the idea of the importance of user interface design. This is utmost advantage and their core business of "Experience Design".

As a senior experience architect at 2ndFACTORY Japan, Ken’s enthusiasm for Rich Internet Application will result in more bridges being built between the designer and the developer worlds and more inspirational RIAs when the talents of these two groups are brought together. And now, convinced about the importance of business Aspect of RIA, he is thinking about project workflow and results that will be appreciated by business decision makers, too.

Ken, Silverlight 3 seems more close to the business than before with all the new cool features announced there. But is it really ready for commercial applications?

I think it is ready for this. With Silverlight 3, we can use a big set of UI components. Most of these have a good result with WPF development, so we can leverage WPF development know-how for it. At Silverlight 2 age, sometimes we had to build basic components from ground up, but now we don’ have to do this. Which is a huge cost saving.

Then, I personally think productivity for “applying graphic design to UI control and data” is so important for RIA development. In this perspective, Expression Blend 3 supports designers with features like sample data, data template and “Make into control”. A better tool support is one of the most important things for RIA development.

When we are thinking about “commercial application”, we need to think about issue of cost with many perspectives. I think that now Silverlight is standing at the “Starting line” for commercial RIA development by its feature set and better tools.

What are the key improvements in Silverlight 3 that will speed up the adoption from the business compared to Silverlight 2?

As I mentioned before, presence of many useful UI components is one of the keys definitely. Core speed tuning of runtime is also a great key. You can feel the difference easily between 2 and 3 by viewing a deep zoom application that has many subimages like hardrock memorabilia.

What about reporting / printing in Silverlight – it is crucial for each LOB application?

Printing from RIA is one of the key issues. To be honest, now Silverlight 3 doesn’t have a good printing feature. Even with other technologies, our customers prefer not to print from RIA client directly but from server side printing solutions like pdf integration.  If printing scenario can be with formatted documents, it does work with silverlight, too. (Like with any other technologies.)  But for un-formatted printing scenarios, Silverlight doesn’t work directly. Most of the LOB app scenarios can go with formatted document, but there are cases which want un-formatted printing. Microsoft has to prepare a printing feature for the future version of Silverlight to support that kind of cases.  

When Silverlight is the right choice for business usage, in which cases?

Ultimately, experiences provided by platforms are the same, when the platforms are well matured. If so, thinking about existing skill set is important. If a company has already invested with .NET development, it’s now time to leverage this skill to expand to RIA side. By other perspective, combination of Visual Studio 2008 and Expression blend 3 is good for collaboration between designer and developer, especially for big projects. If your projects are using .NET for server side, it is obvious that Silverlight is the right choice for you. These issues depend on environment. Not only with the platform itself. In particular, if development teams have experienced well with ASP.NET, Silverlight is the best choice for the next step. Especially for enterprise applications, Silverlight works with this kind of scenario.

Are there cases in which Silverlight is not recommended and if yes, why?

Right now, the beauty of .NET framework is sometimes too complicated to do small, animation only type of contents / projects. And if your developers are already well familiar with Flash/Flex or any other technology and do not have to deal with .NET, they should develop with the well known technology.

And because customers are really worried about penetration of runtime, it is not the right time to use Silverlight for advertisement projects, I think. But for an application that has longer life cycle and usable features, if they really wanted to use the application, installation process does not matter, like the scenario with Adobe AIR.

Are there companies in your client’s list, which have already worked or are now working on Silverlight projects?

Many! J One of our main clients is Yahoo! Japan. They have done many online Silverlight applications with us. The world’s first Silverlight DRM video site for MLB streaming of Yahoo! Japan is developed by 2ndFACTORY, too. I could not open company’s name, but 5 or more internal enterprise Silverlight application projects are running now with 2ndFACTORY.

Can you tell us in what industry are they and a bit more about the projects? Your answer will help people from the same or related industries to consider using Silverlight as solution.

If a company has already invested in .NET skill-set, Silverlight is the solution for them. In Japan, IT division of middle size companies tends to invest in .NET development, which means that they are the market for Silverlight. For internet world, if they already use SQL server as backend database, there is opportunity for streamlining dataset delivering.

My answer is not industry specific, but we can ask quick question like this, “Are you using any Microsoft technologies in your server side?” and if the answer is yes, they are potential customers.

Tell us a little bit more about the Silverlight projects you have made

We have developed improved UI for SharePoint server by Silverlight. As you can guess, SharePoint can provide its own data by .NET manner. We can leverage them easily by LINQ and other medium features of Silverlight’s .NET Framework. This is my personal opinion, but several server side technologies of Microsoft have great business logic and features but not for user interface. With Silverlight, we could re-paint completely about look and feel of SharePoint, and add several features in client side with the same data provided by SharePoint Server. Our initial customer is satisfied with the overall experience we provide. Also we are going to release and sell this as semi finished package solution.

I’d like to introduce our “Jellyfish Deep Zoom” project. Jellyfish is an open source toolkit for building dynamic deep zoom applications. Usually we are using Deep Zoom Composer, client tool, for slicing deep zoom files. But if you have wanted to slice existing image source on server, you cannot use deep zoom composer at server side. Jellyfish has server side deep zoom slicer and client side Silverlight library to make dynamic deep zoom development easier. This year, we spoke about Jellyfish at mix09. Please check our session recording, and try Jellyfish on CodePlex.

You know in concurrent environment, the speed and the quality of the provided products and services are essential for each successful business. Does Silverlight improve the development speed and quality?

Yes. Sophisticated UI control set that tied with validation framework can greatly affect for business applications. I think maturity of component business is one of the greatest characteristics of .NET world. Before we develop it, we should find it. And, the combination of Visual Studio and Expression Blend can accelerate component based development by its component support feature and productivity.

What do you think about the Sketch-Flow – does it reflect the real business processes of developing products?

Definitely, yes. Our core competence is “Experience Design for Application”. We usually take longer time for conceptual design and requirement gathering. SketchFlow can easily support early experience design phase, without bothering developers by ever-changing request. Designers can do “all” for early phase by themselves. And the result from SketchFlow development is not just a sketch, but a complete XAML set. We can smoothly import them into production development. I think SketchFlow will be huge time-cost reduction for us.

It seems that Silverlight has almost everything needed by the business, but what about the third parties?  What more could they offer?

The extensibility of Silverlight is great for third parties. We can develop custom component that is leveraging the basic nature of Silverlight. For example, Infragistics offer more capable datagrid and even Microsoft ships Silverlight with datagrid. Now for tool side, Expression Blend 3 also has extensibility. We can develop our own Behavior, sample data, asset library and so on for Expression Blend development. Especially about behavior, I sense some business chance from it. That’s because we can expand designer’s capability by encapsulating complex logic into behaviors.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Again, ultimately, experiences provided by platforms are the same, when the platforms are well matured. We all have to know all of the major RIA technologies for specific customer’s situation. Now Silverlight is one of these technologies.





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