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Microsoft Silverlight versus HTML5: Is it time to upgrade?

Frustration and confusion continues to surround the ongoing debate between which programming language to use - Microsoft Silverlight or upgrade to HTML5. Rumours abound that Microsoft is planning to abandon Silverlight as momentum for HTML5 solutions continues to grow. Such a dramatic twist in strategy is unlikely, Silverlight is not going to go away but it will evolve and shift in importance.

The times they are a-changin'

Microsoft are changing their approach and moving away from developing Silverlight as a platform for web applications for business systems and are instead focusing on Silverlight apps in Windows phones, games, out of browser applications, and high performance media apps.

For example, websites which need live video, adaptive smooth streaming, or DVR functionality would use an embedded Silverlight application as it will give improved custom functionality and performance. Silverlight can also do more advanced things that HTML5 will most likely never be able to do because its purpose is completely different.

HTML5 is the only true cross-platform solution

Microsoft has been quoted saying that HTML5 is "the only true cross-platform solution for everything." which seems to settle the argument and seal HTML5's future as the dominant player in the immediate future. At MSM Software we are already seeing clients ask about upgrading from Silverlight to HTML5 and questioning the wisdom of using Silverlight as the base for future development as they seek to future-proof their software applications.

The most noteworthy thing about HTML5 is its use alongside jQuery within MVC framework. This approach is fast, flexible and highly dynamic and it is definitely the future of web based application development.

Managing the risk of a Silverlight skills shortage

HTML5 is the new, exciting technology just like Silverlight was a few years back, but unlike Silverlight it already has the advantage of having millions of developers who know HTML inside out. Silverlight will lack such continuity in experience which may result in application support and maintenance issues.

The future availability of Silverlight talent will become increasingly scarce as the use of HTML5 becomes more widespread and Silverlight becomes a niche technology. This challenge is inevitable as developers focus on building their knowledge and experience of HTML5 at the expense of Silverlight.

As Microsoft Silverlight's status diminishes organisations will face challenges resulting from a skills shortage as experts become more scarce and any planned or, more concerning, unplanned absence such as annual leave or sickness make an organisation vulnerable to a single point of failure. As a result many organisations will put their revenue, reputation and operational performance at risk with insufficient support of business-critical applications.

Is it time to upgrade to HTML5? - A strategic IT decision

Over time compatibility with new applications will become an issue, particularly if internal expertise has left the business and the downtime or failure of an application, particularly a business-critical application, may lead to lost revenue and customer dissatisfaction. Loss of productivity for internal employees, partners, and even the IT department is likely to increase as they try to troubleshoot problems.

Organisations need to be aware of such challenges and plan accordingly. By transferring non-core IT activities to a third party they can reduce business risk and free up valuable resource and expertise within their team, and reduce cost by being able to tap into Silverlight skills as and when they need it.

If you have a business-critical application that is core to your businesses strategic success then you may seriously consider a complete rewrite to ensure that you always have a strong pool of talent to recruit from in the future. If you don't then you may find your ability to effectively support and maintain your key software application compromised in the years ahead which may have a negative impact your long-term competitive advantage.

Contributions by James Turner, BSc (Hons), Support Developer, MSM Software

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