Silverlight in SharePoint: Overview and a View on the Future

In the beginning there was SharePoint, a platform for collaboration and content management. It allows people to work together. It’s an easy task to set up a site where people can share information and manage documents from start to finish.

SharePoint 2007 was already good, but SharePoint 2010 is even better. New features such as taxonomy, document sets, content organizers, and better record management make it to an attractive platform. The user interface on the other side is not that attractive. But with a little bit of branding you can create a new look.
And here enters Silverlight. Silverlight is a powerful development technology for creating attractive and interactive user interfaces.

The first version of Silverlight was released in 2007. It was merely JavaScript based. Almost everybody was skeptical about it, and it was said that it would never have the grandeur of Flash. But as versions come and go, Silverlight has become a full-blown solid technology for designing powerful user interfaces.

A Silverlight application can be more than a pretty user interface created by designers; you can also add code to it to give it a more functional aspect. Because Silverlight classes are a subset of the .NET Framework, it makes it easy for .NET programmers to add the necessary functionality. Moreover, a designer can create the user interface with a tool like Microsoft Expression Blend and hand it over to the developer, who can open it in Microsoft Visual Studio and complete the application.

In April 2010, Silverlight 4 was released with yet another new set of features.
There is a belief that Silverlight can play a powerful role in the branding of SharePoint sites. Silverlight applications can communicate with a SharePoint site and thus render SharePoint data in an attractive way.
The first versions of Silverlight were hard to integrate with SharePoint, asking for a number of modifications in the web.config file of each SharePoint web application. It drove a lot of SharePoint developers (and even a number of well-known SharePoint gurus) mad. As of Silverlight 3, this hurdle has disappeared.
In SharePoint 2007, communication was possible only through the SharePoint web services or through custom WCF services. But SharePoint 2010 comes with a set of client object models that makes it easier for developers to have a Silverlight application communicate with SharePoint.

In SharePoint 2010, Silverlight is already integrated out of the box: if you want to create a list or a site, you are presented with a Silverlight wizard. SharePoint 2010 also comes with a Silverlight web part that lets you render a Silverlight application that you uploaded to a document library or deployed to the SharePoint hive. There is also the out-of-the-box Silverlight media player. This is a Silverlight application that you can host within the Silverlight web part and that displays your media files.

A View on the Future

In December 2010, Silverlight 5 was announced. This version of Silverlight will add some great new features and capabilities for premium media solutions across browsers, desktops, and devices. The first beta version of Silverlight 5 became available in April, 2011.

Silverlight for Windows Phone is the application development platform for Windows Phone 7. Silverlight uses the XNA framework for audio capture and playback and can even access Xbox Live. This XNA framework is provided by Microsoft for high-performance gaming, used on Xbox.

In 2010 we entered the mobile phone era. We use our mobile phones for calling people or sending short messages, but more and more we are also using the Internet from our phones. Many companies see the hole in the market and start developing mobile phone applications. The banking sector, for example, will offer its services through mobile phone.

When talking about Silverlight integration in SharePoint, most developers think primarily about web parts. But this integration can reach far beyond that. You can host Silverlight applications from within most SharePoint artifacts such as custom fields, custom list forms, list views, application pages, master pages, navigation, search, and so on.

In that light, there is definitely a future for SharePoint-based applications running on mobile phones. Don’t you think so? What other future predictions can you make for SharePoint and Silverlight? Do you think these technologies are a good choice?