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Thierry Fierens on "Is Silverlight 3 ready for business"

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Joined Nov 03, 2008
Articles:   15
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2 comments   /   posted on Jul 06, 2009
Tags:   silverlight-3 , line-of-business , thierry-fierens
Categories:   Interviews


Adest has over 15 years experience in designing, developing, installing and supporting enterprise wide document information management solutions. Our products and related services have proven success stories in many market sectors and across all operational departments.

Adest already have hundreds of companies and thousands of users internationally and therefore a complete support program ensures Adest users have comprehensive support to suit their specific requirements. Nonetheless the key reason why Adest offers better value to our customers is because we develop these scalable enterprise solutions and supply them at an affordable price. Hence our tag line; Less Paper, More Profit!


Thierry Fierens is the Software Development Director in Adest and has been responsible for Adest R&D of all its products for the past 14 years. While his focus is Document Management Solutions, he has always concentrated on existing and emerging Microsoft Technologies and how to best fit them in real world scenarios. While new to Silverlight, he has a vast experience in Client/Server application design and has used numerous technologies over the years; from SQL Server, designing/implementing ActiveX, COM+ and DCOM components to providing Windows & ASP solutions all in Visual Basic, to using more up-to-date technologies such as VB.NET/C#, ASP.NET, SCSF (Smart Client Software Factory), WCF (Windows Communication Foundation), WF (Windows Workflow), etc…


Silverlight is now high on his list as he sees the potential this technology has to offer to Adest and its customers and has numerous products that will be implemented over time using it and hopefully taking advantages of all it has to offer.


Short Product Info

Our Administration module was originally written as an ActiveX component and was only used by our windows based products. As the name states it, this module was developed to administer our security within our product. Everything from creating groups, users to allocating access rights to specific applications, categories, options, etc… This component was extremely flexible and powerful and when we introduced our web product (Adest Web), it was only natural to re-use it as the rest of the Adest Web was solely reliant on other ActiveX components. While ActiveX components did the jobs for years and were great, using these did not come without a price, mainly security and being restricted to IE.

When we decided to re-write Adest Web in ASP.NET and completely remove all ActiveX from the product, it greatly improved our existing issues but one remained - the cross-browser compatibility issue. Making it cross browser compatible just wasn’t feasible for Adest as while there was a demand to support other browsers, it still was not significant enough for us to invest the time and/or the money but we were sure that this was changing and changing fast.

So when I first read about Silverlight and the fact that it was going to be cross-browser compatible, I thought it would be worth investigating further and here we are.

Thierry, what was the main reason to select Silverlight as platform for development of Adest Web Administration Tool?

As previously state, Adest’s previous administration module used to be windows based and I knew this was no longer viable as over the years, without stating the obvious reasons to why we should be web based, numerous clients (Administrators) had requested such a feature.

There were also 2 other main reasons why I decided that Silverlight was going to be the best platform for our web development requirements.

First and foremost, it was to do with cross-browser compatibility issues. We spend a large amount of time, resource (and therefore money!) in the past developing our web applications in ASP.NET and it was an absolute nightmare trying to make them cross-browser compatible.

The second reason was to provide a richer user interface for our web applications. While the UI is not the most important part of an application, I believe it plays a crucial role. I know you can provide very good user interface in ASP.NET but I believe that the ease of use and flexibility of Silverlight compared to ASP.NET is second to none. In order to provide similar UI developed with Silverlight in ASP.NET, it would have taken a lot more time, knowledge, resource and once again money.

So I think it is fair to say that investing in Silverlight, will not only meet our requirements in terms of cross-browser compatibility and allow us to provide more flexible/powerful UI to our customers and this will apply to all our web based products, but it will also save our company money in the long term as the development time will be shorter than when developed in ASP.NET.

What pushed you to use Silverlight 3 in beta stage without even a Go-Live license?

We originally planned to get this developed using Silverlight 2.0 but Silverlight 3.0 seems a lot more oriented toward LOB applications than its predecessor, so after careful consideration and very good advice from CompletIt, we decided to go with 3.0. One of the major reasons we were willing to gamble going ahead without a “Go-Live” license is that time was on our side for once J. Our .NET product suite is new and it won’t be ready for a few months and also we knew that for the next few months after releasing our products, our support engineers were likely to be the ones to look after the administrative side of things rather than our customer, so going ahead without a “Go-Live” license seem feasible from Adest’s point of view.

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?


From a Silverlight point of view I would definitely say yes but I believe there is still a lot of work in providing the appropriate tools to work with it, as these have been very flaky to say the least. We are definitely going to invest more time, resource and money in Silverlight in the future as we see great potential for this platform. But these issues need to be addressed fast because I feel this could potentially backfire if not sorted quickly.

Silverlight is a plug-in based technology. Do you face any problems in that direction? Aren’t clients afraid from installing new plug-ins, especially coming out from Microsoft?


This definitely has been an ongoing subject in Adest. Remember that our original version of Adest Web was ActiveX based, so not only it required a download for our components, but it also required IE. In most cases we were ok, but in some client sites where security was a major concern, the installation of ActiveX components was just a no go area. I won’t say which clients, but if you knew who they were, you’d laugh!! J.

We eventually decided to re-write this in ASP.NET. This tackled having to download our ActiveX components, but we were still faced with having to tell our customers they required IE as we weren’t cross-browser compatible and in most cases we were ok, but in some cases it didn’t go down well at all.

Hopefully, Microsoft will eventually include Silverlight in their Windows Update just as they did with the .NET framework, maybe making feel less intrusive.

So, going back to your question, I think that having to download Silverlight run-times (and third-party tools) is a small price to pay if it is going to not only tackle the cross-browser compatibility issue and run in a sandbox environment, thus keeping administrators happy in terms of security, but it will also provide more user friendly, more functional and generally better products, thus keeping the end-user happy. So I feel we have a win-win situation here.

Do you see any show-stopper issues that would prevent the adoption of Silverlight as a platform for LOB applications?


While I don’t see any show-stoppers from LOB point of view, I do see one when it comes down to having tools that work reliably with all the features available in SL. Both the .NET IDE and MS Blend seem to be having various issues that need to be ironed out fast. While I feel that developing a Silverlight application is definitely going to save us time and money, you do not want this “gain” to go to waste having to figure out issues with the .NET IDE and MS Blend.

Going back to the original question, I don’t believe at this time, from an Adest perspective that there aren’t any major show-stoppers. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s provided us with everything we need and even more.

We have many other products that are due for release this year and we see great potential for all of them using Silverlight. It’s been so impressive that we’ve decided from now on to use Silverlight and WCF as a platform/framework of choice in nearly all cases where the UI plays an important role when designing and implementing web application for our clients.

We also see Silverlight potentially opening new markets for us. Since we have concentrated on Windows operating system, the thought of being able to provide application that will run on Apple and Unix while still concentrating on what we know (i.e. .NET) is absolutely fantastic.

When is Silverlight the right choice for business usage, in which cases? What are the main benefits from business point of view?


I think these kinds of choices vary greatly from one company to another. Some business might be more suited with the likes of ASP.NET while other may not. It really depends on your requirements.

From our perspective, it’s been definitely down to development time and therefore cost. Grasping Silverlight was definitely a lot easier than it ever was with ASP.net but like any other new language, there is a learning curve that needs to be overcome in terms of language, third-party tools, bugs, problems, general know how, design patterns, etc… But in the long term, the benefits will reap, without a doubt.

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


The first one that comes to my mind would be if downloading the Silverlight plug-in is a major security problem, then reverting back to the likes of ASP.NET may be needed.

What about reporting / printing in Silverlight – it is crucial for each LOB application? Don’t you need this in Adest Web Administration Tool?


Depending on one’s requirement, printing could potentially be an issue. Having said that, the Adest Web Administration Module will provide various reporting features and all of these will be handled from the server side i.e. generate PDF reports on the fly, so this will not be an issue right now. 

I don’t believe generating reports on the server side are an issue but this does not mean that client side printing should not be provided. Often, our clients need to print their grid’s results and while a server side could do the trick, it would be an overkill in this case if all the data is already available on the client side, thus satisfying the need to client side printing within Silverlight. I do hope that Microsoft will provide this in the future release of Silverlight.

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?


Absolutely! That is why I got converted so quickly and saw the potential it could offer. As mentioned previously, I’m sure ASP.NET (or other languages) can do incredible things when it comes down to UI but Silverlight has been definitely adapted by our developers far quicker than ASP.NET ever was. We can now concentrate on providing better features in a faster manner for more browsers.

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


I have been blown away by some third-party components that are available out there as they really provide amazing features that you could never have thought were possible to achieve within a web browser but all of them seem to be very much UI based; but what about compression, security, etc…

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

It’s been a long awaited platform and can’t wait to see our customer’s general reaction to our new Silverlight based products.




  • -_-

    RE: Thierry Fierens on "Is Silverlight 3 ready for business"

    posted by PHANG on Jul 15, 2009 12:49

    Printing is the important part for certain business industry. Let's say the system is used by Law firm to create legal letters. SL3 is not giving feature to do so. It will push away customers which like to see good customized reports that is printable in the system.

    I could be wrong. Unless someone has come out with workaround to handle this issue. Any recommendation?

  • -_-

    RE: Thierry Fierens on "Is Silverlight 3 ready for business"

    posted by Thierry on Jul 16, 2009 04:20


    All our documents will be generated in the server end and converted to PDF, so I guess you could do the same with a legal letters. Once generated, it will display it in Adobe and you could print from there. Also I've seen various projects on the web where you can include the Adobe Acrobat Viewer in your silverlight project.

    You could also do the same but converting them to XPS instead of PDF.

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