New Features of Silverlight 5

Two days ago, @ScottGu has announced new features scheduled for Silverlight 5 on the Silverlight Firestarter event. He has said that there were over 21000 votes about the new feature set collected from the Internet, and around 70% of them have been scheduled for SL5.

Now, this is truly amazing.

Just think about it. Which other vendor of a commercial technology with installation base of at least 60% worldwide would allow you to vote for features and then just implement them – for free and within a year? Can you vote for a feature in HTML6? And when you’ll get them, in 2030?

I can’t wait to start using SL5 beta. Here is a list of features I will value most:

Hardware-accelerated video decoding! First, this will HUGELY expand the range of devices able to play video with Silverlight downwards. Netbooks barely capable playing Youtube-quality without glitches will be able to play 720p or even 1080p in their full glory. Second, it can improve playback of some scenes that are challenging for SL4, but not a problem for native players like Windows Media Player or VLC, which will allow HD-Video-philes to enjoy the Silverlight movie experience in premium segment. Third, this can radically prolong battery life of all portable devices playing video.

Typography improvements – Text clarity, Multicolumn layout. The current text rendering is just plain awful. You have to spend substantial time to work out your design inside tight limits, if you need to provide a compelling typography with Silverlight. I hope this will be radically improved in SL5, so that apps will have crisp AND quick text rendering by default, without any tweaking. As far as I understand, there will be also a possibility to convert text into vector graphic (something which has always been available in WPF and has been stripped for unknown reasons from Silverlight). Depending on how it will be implemented, this might also enable many important and interestring scenarios, including placing text along a curve, using perspective, or just surround each letter with a border.

P/Invoke. No details about it, but if it will allow to load and work with WinAPI and .NET Framework libraries, this will be another huge improvement. One of the Silverlight issues is that it is a stripped-down version of .NET. Quite often you need some functionality and it isn’t there. I’ve never understood, why did they develop a parallel .NET instead of re-structuring existing .NET Framework, extend its security model to incorporate strict Silverlight security, port a couple of most important modules to Mac OS X, and implement on-demand framework installation (as soon as first SL app needs some library, it can be downloaded from Azure). So, back to real world. P/Invoke in SL OOB apps will be rather a workaround for this, in my opinion, unbalanced architecture decision, but nevertheless, a very important one opening a huge number of business opportunities.

LOB support improvement. WS-Trust is now supported. It is funny. Two years ago, I was consulting a big international company. They were deciding whether to use WPF or Silverlight OOB in their frontends deployed in many businesses around the world. They wanted to use WS-Trust and were asking me how to do that in Silverlight 3. The answer was “it can be done, but we have to implement the WS-Trust stack ourselves”, which was a Silverlight killer.

I want to mention a couple of other announced things, which I’ve found quite interesting, but I’m not sure how are they related to the real-world Silverlight-based ISV business: Pivot and Crescent. I suppose, they showcase Silverlight features that can be used for innovative LOB apps. If you haven’t seen them, take a look.

One last comment on the Firestarter event: you’ve got to watch the presentation of Dave Ossip (start time: 00:56:11). This is one of the most concise and rational product presentations I’ve ever seen. It is still marketing speak, but more marketing effect is being achieved with less marketing bullshit bingo. Not a big deal, but my geeky soul could consume it without to agonize (I’m looking at you, SAP presentation video).

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