Silverlight Firestarter 2010

Silverlight Firestarter 2010 Banner

Spawned from a communication at the recent PDC that was then somehow twisted and blown well out of proportion by the blogosphere, Microsoft recently held a Silverlight Firestarter event on campus in Redmond (and streamed live). The “main event” was the keynote which was primarily dedicated to talking about the future of Silverlight, and specifically show casing Silverlight 5.

What was announced

The current feature set of Silverlight 5 is impressive – see Scott Gu’s blog post for a comprehensive overview, the official futures page, or better yet go watch the keynote here.

Here’s what I’m looking forward to the most:

  • Implicit DataTemplates. How do Silverlight developers survive without this!?
  • AncestorType support for RelativeSource binding.
  • Data binding debugging. This looks awesome and could be a real time saver. Simply place a breakpoint on the binding declared in the XAML. When the debugger stops it gives you full access to the Target and binding results or error. This surely has to make it into WPF in an upcoming Visual Studio service pack, or at the very least vNext.
  • For shear, jaw dropping visual effect the 3D medical modelling and globe demos were spectacular. Though it was a very quick portion of the demo the 3D globe – with separate land and cloud layers looked great. I hope this is the future for Bing maps now that they’ve scrapped the 3D plug-in version.
  • BI with Project Crescent. So this offering was shown at the recent PASS 2010 Summit and its seriously cool.

Timing

The problem of course is that the release date for Silverlight 5 isn’t until late 2011 – effectively a year away. Its understandable that Microsoft hadn’t originally planned on showing off Silverlight 5 until they were closer to the release – probably at the time the first beta (scheduled for Spring 2011). It seems they felt that their hand was forced by the recent “Silverlight is dead” debacle. What I saw demoed was certainly impressive but it really makes me crave those features now – and makes Silverlight 4 seem more incomplete as a result. It isn’t helped that Silverlight for Windows Phone is currently not even at Silverlight 4 level. So for now I get to develop on Silverlight 3.5 and 4.0 whilst eagerly awaiting the promise that is Silverlight 5.

Of course any serious development I do is in WPF – ‘cause lets face it – browser dependent apps are just toys right?

Intro Sessions for Silverlight

The rest of the Firestarter event was devoted to standard presentation sessions. It started with a Silverlight Binding 101 session given by Jesse Liberty. This should have been dull, but Jesse was very entertaining. If you’re very new to the Silverlight scene I strongly recommend his session as an introduction. John Papa also did a very good introduction to MVVM session.

Each session gradually increased in terms of depth of coverage. The last session by Jamie Rodriguez was a fast and furious dive into potential performance issues when developing for Windows Phone 7. It covered many pragmatic tips and tricks on monitoring and resolving these issues. Despite having seen much of this content previously presented by Jamie on Channel 9 I still found it to be a great session.

The Venue

Microsoft Campus SignThis was my first trip to Seattle and unfortunately I was on a very tight schedule. I arrived very early Thursday morning and left the same night (with 6 hours of flight time either side). I caught the local bus from my hotel in Bellevue to the campus and the area looked very suburban, yet very beautiful too (certainly compared to the concrete jungle that is Manhattan). I also had a detour through downtown Seattle on the way back to the airport in a taxi I was sharing. I was impressed with the city, though I’m told the real test as to whether you could live in Seattle is being able to live through your first winter there.

The event was held in Building 33 at the Conference Center. The room used to host the keynote and the developer sessions was a lecture theatre layout. This was awesome ‘cause it meant everyone could have their laptops set up the entire day, plugged in to power, recharging phones etc. I think about one third of the attendees at the keynote were Microsoft employees from teams other than the Silverlight team.

Is Silverlight Resuscitated?

So will this Firestarter event satisfy the seemingly fickle Silverlight development community? Will they be prepared to wait more that 12 months between versions (shock, gasp)! I heard someone in the audience complain that there wasn’t enough Windows Phone content – which was kind of amusing. Too much focus on Windows Phone would have probably been exactly the wrong message to send to the community.

So where does this leave WPF? No mention in the PDC keynote, no separate Firestarter event – is WPF dead!? Bring on WPF Firestarter 2011 Smile with tongue out