Where are the dope Silverlight demos?

There’s a lot of buzz about Silverlight 2.0 right now, and people are expecting some big announcements at MIX soon. But where the hell are the cool Silverlight demos? Offline support would bring Silverlight closer to competition with AIR, and it’s looking like SL 2.0 is going to be an actual competitor with Flex now that it’s going to have a framework of controls (SL 1.0 wasn’t even close to a Flex competitor, it was more a Flash Player competitor). All that sounds sweet, almost makes me want to download Expression Blend and try it all out, but again, where’s the cool stuff?

I figured the first place I’d look for the kick ass Silverlight demos would be the silverlight.net showcase page by Microsoft. I mean, there HAS to be sweet stuff shown there right? Um, not so much. I checked out each of the demos on the main silverlight.net page and here’s what I found:

  • screenshot013.jpgInfragistics Silverlight demos
    This site has a few screenshots of some charting stuff in Silverlight. The charts look pretty good in fact (heh, at this point anything that doesn’t look like the default Flex charts feels “fresh”). But the Infragistics demo site itself (which is a Silverlight app) is slow as balls and doesn’t impress me at all. It feels clunky, the animations are rough, and is just kinda boring.
  • screenshot018.jpgSilverlight book flip effect
    On the Microsoft Action Pack (wtf is that?) product page they use Silverlight for that amazing book flip effect. I won’t rail on this too hard, but suffice it so say I think the book flipping thing is an awful idea 99.99% of the time (that .01% of the time it was actually useful was the anatomy example Ely Greenfield did, that was the only time I’ve ever thought book flipping was useful). The Silverlight flip effect was super slow (like in the unusable way).
  • screenshot014.jpgMicrosoft Dynamics
    I think the only use of Silverlight on this page is for a non-interactive animation. Consider me unimpressed. But maybe I’m missing something since the site’s in Italian. Does this Silverlight demo do more than simply play a short video?
  • screenshot015.jpgSanremo Anche Noi
    This app’s actually pretty sweet, it’s a well designed video showcase. It’s simple, basically just lets you browse various videos, but does a good job at showing good quality video is designed well. There’s nothing jaw dropping here, but it’s a solid, well designed experience.
  • screenshot016.jpgZebrakho
    This is a store that sells animal skins and heads and stuff. And as much as I want a big animal head mounted on my wall… But seriously, the site uses Silverlight for a few small animated effects, but it comes off feeling like an old, poorly made Flash site, complete with that scrolling news-ticker thingy to show product specials.
  • screenshot017.jpgVodafone Interactive TV
    Another video site, complete with a skip intro movie! Ahh, back to the good old days. Seriously guys, if you want to do the whole “better than Flash” thing then don’t take us back to the skip intro era. The site itself is pretty simple, again just showing off a bunch of videos.

Yes, I am aware of the Silverlight showcase, and I’ve been browsing through a little bit, but it’s hard for me to wade through so many apps in order to find that one amazing example that blows me away (yet to be found). I did find this example though, which was cooler than the ones on the front Silverlight showcase page.

  • screenshot019.jpgMicrosoft TechDays
    This is a pretty cool design that lets you drag around polaroid looking photos that play video. Cool concept, except it runs pretty slow on my machine, which destroys the smooth dragging and resizing effects. I can almost guarantee I could make the same concept that would feel smoother and slicker as a Flex app.

screenshot011.jpgI also tried the Microsoft download center, since I had seen some people blogging about that Silverlight app. My overall impression? It feels like an Ajax app. The animations are limited to the simplest of dropdowns and even those feel slow and choppy (click on the “Browse Downloads” button). I don’t see anything I haven’t seen with JavaScript stuff, and the overall site just feels like DHTML, even if it’s not.

This all feels like old, bad Flash
I feel like I’m in a time warp. These example apps all feel like old Flash sites to me. They feel clunky and slow (is that because I’m on a Mac?). They even have design elements that people used to use but have since been demonized and cast aside (skip intro, news ticker).

Show me something I can’t do
I have yet to see a single thing that I can’t do with Flash/Flex. Now I’m not saying that Silverlight is worthless unless it has sweet features above and beyond what Flex (or Flash Player) can do. Having a competitor is a good thing, it’ll keep Adobe on its toes (H.264 anyone?) and drive innovation. But for all the hub-bub about how Silverlight is going to be awesome, I have yet to see anything awesome being created. It all feels slow, clunky, and poorly designed (that last part isn’t Microsoft’s fault obviously). I just want one thing that makes me sit back and say “Holy shit! THAT’S what you can do with Silverlight?” Just give me that, throw me a bone.

I had that moment when I saw Pavan Podila‘s WPF example of doing 3D layouts with WPF. That blew me away (he made it back in June) and I realized that WPF ain’t nothing to fuck with. If you get 3D out of the box and can create such fluid layouts, I may just have to start learning WPF. Granted, you can do very similar things with Flash, but Pavan’s videos are just so damn smooth and responsive. BTW, Pavan’s a really cool guy, I met him at 360Flex just recently, and he’s one of the few guys I know who rocks both WPF and Flex. We’re lucky to have him on the Flex side (Pavan’s on the Degrafa team) because not only is he a smart ass dude, but he has a whole different perspective because he knows how they do things in WPF. For those that haven’t seen, here’s a video that Pavan made to show off 3D layouts in WPF:

So I know most of the people who read this blog are Flex devs, and that the crossover is pretty slim, but in case anyone knows of the dopest, most jaw dropping Silverlight demo they’ve ever seen that would make me mess my pants, send me an email. I don’t necessarily mean an actual application, I just want to see something cool. Maybe there’s some sweet stuff hidden away on blogs (I know there are tons of cool Flex demos on people’s blogs). Bonus points if you have something that does cool data visualizations stuff. And yeah, I’ve seen the tafiti demo, don’t send me that one. And super double bonus points if the app wasn’t made or funded by Microsoft.


29 thoughts on “Where are the dope Silverlight demos?

  1. I spent a few days a while back scouring the web for Silverlight demos as well. The server guys I work with all came from .NET backgrounds and started harping Silverlight as soon as they joined the team. I consider myself open to whatever technology will get the job done while being flexible, maintainable, and enjoyable at the same time. Pretty tough balance to keep but Flex has been good to us so far. Every site I stumbled across required a different version of the Silverlight plugin. As soon as I upgraded to a newer version some of the sites written for previous versions wouldn’t work and hadn’t been updated, and the whole ordeal left me feeling frustrated and annoyed as a user. Definitely not an experience I’d want to pass on to my users as a developer. Flex really has a lot going for it with the installed flash player base alone.

    Keep us informed with what you find. Maybe with each app posted we can challenge the community to develop something similar in Flex to compare the look and feel.

  2. barry.b says:

    chances are that this will be high on Scott Barnes’ hit list when he takes up the reigns as the new SilverLight product manager…

  3. Tangnet says:

    Doug, sometimes evaluating a technology is not simply comparing what it can or it cannot do. There are other things to be taken into consideration, such as last-mile development (what it takes to get to the last minute, usually a gotcha), leveraging existing knowledge base (there are a lot more C# programmers than AS 3.0, though I would admit most of them are incapable UI, but then again, they don’t need to learn a new language which is a common resistance), deployment cost and integration cost.

    Having been in both .NET and AS 3.0, I would say Flash/Flex definite has clear edge on UI, and people who are in Flash/Flex are naturally better UI developers. C#/SL camp, on the other hand, do have a lot better architects, and better enterprise application developers. This does not immediate translate to better UI’s, but if you have been in my shoes trying to convince my colleagues to Flash instead of AJAX or SL for years, you will feel the pain that your architects keep coming up reasons they should not go for Flash — one reason, the word Flash and actionSCRIPT scare them.

  4. Tangnet says:

    One thing I would complain — Silverlight slow as dog, but faster than AJAX — so it is up to Flash/Flex developer challenge to create fast, capable and responsive GUI’s to showcase the strength of the technology.

    Flash Player team really does a great job pushing performance to its max. Hoping Flex 4 would have a liter footprint to further strengthen this advantage.

    I would also hope to see a C# possibility to writing Flex/Flash code, that would be a big killer for Silverlight. Language means nothing when it comes to quality of code — but it means a lot to many lazy programmers who are on impossible deadlines.

  5. Thanks for putting this list together, Doug. Helpful for those of us that are starting to get more and more questions about Silverlight, and need to have something to show for its capabilities, both good and bad.

    I cannot, however, find instructions on how to uninstall the Alpha version of the plug-in. Apparently on a Mac you have to manually uninstall the Alpha before MS will let you install the newest plug-in version — which it appears at least some of those sites require.

    I would re-run the installer to see if it presented an uninstall option, but I don’t have it anymore. And since it is an old version, I can’t find it online anymore.

    Microsoft’s site seems to straight up ignore support for the OS X version of their plug-in. Can someone provide a link or instructions on how to uninstall so I can upgrade? Thanks.

  6. Just for the record I have not had much trouble with the Silverlight plugin installer. There was a period a bit ago while the betas were constantly updating that I seemed to always have to install a new beta each time I tried to view a site, like Danny said in his comment. But I haven’t had that recently and didn’t have any trouble viewing any of the above sites. I don’t remember when I last installed a new plugin version, but I haven’t had to do so for a bit and all the sites seem to work for me.

    Just so we don’t get the whole “your plugin is harder to install than my plugin” debate going here…

  7. “Show me something I can’t do”

    You can’t create a button that contains arbitrary contents in Flex without resorting to mx_internal “hacks” that are simply too hard for most Flex developers/designers. Even if you do that, you don’t get good design-time experience in Flex Builder.

    From my point of view, the main advantage of Silverlight is that it’s not limiting what you can do with your UI – the WPF framework is so flexible that Flex is nowhere near. If Microsoft fixes all the other (possibly valid) issues, you get a development model that you can’t match in Flex world these days (really looking forward to Flex 4 :).


  8. Erwin, as far as I know, Doug’s CanvasButton is the closest imitation of the desired behaviour in Flex. But you still can’t compare it to what you can do with WPF’s button (templates etc.) in my opinion.

  9. @Tangent – “sometimes evaluating a technology is not simply comparing what it can or it cannot do.” When I evaluate a technology to figure out what I want to learn, it is 100% about what it can or cannot do. And at this point I know Flex/AS3 fairly well and can code very quickly, so doing stuff faster and easier is certainly a big plus, but what really concerns me is what kind of cool shit I can make. If I don’t see the cool stuff I’m not going to learn it.

    @Borek – your WPF Button example is a great one (is this the same way in Silverlight 2?). I made the CanvasButton control in response to someone saying how easy that type of thing is in WPF. Granted, my version isn’t as flexible as WPF, but I think in this particular case it certainly got the job done (and wasn’t that hard). But the point about WPF having a better framework model and easier extensibility is well taken, and I think this is a point I would concede in terms of ease of development in WPF vs Flex. I’d argue that with Flex 4 ,and even sooner with OpenFlux, we’re heading in that direction, but it’s definitely something that WPF got right first.

    In both of these comments you’re each talking about making development easier and faster. That’s important for new developers (and even more so obviously for C# devs). But for me, I can crank out cool shit in Flex in no time, so while faster and easier code writing is a benefit, it’s not enough to get me to learn it. I’m not willing to give up the cool shit factor that I have with Flex/Flash so I can write lamer applications faster.

  10. “I have yet to see a single thing that I can’t do with Flash/Flex.”

    I don’t think you’re the target market. All they have to do is keep a “Flash vs Silverlight” discussion alive, in order to keep .NET developers from switching, Windows Media installations from switching.

    The parallel “Silverlight vs AIR” discussions are helpful to them in making it slower to understand the game-changing nature of AIR. The marketing makes more sense when seen as a defensive move.


  11. Doug — just to clarify, I was by no means trying to start a “your plug-in is harder to install than my plug-in” debate, but rather just figure out how I could view all of the examples you posted. While I have yet to seriously develop with it, I am all for competition in this space and I believe it only benefits the Flex (and Silverlight) community.

  12. At 360Flex, in the “What’s coming in Flex 4” talk, Deepa spoke about how they were brainstorming how to leverage Flex on a mobile platform. Just saw this article on PC World this morning about how Silverlight may get shipped with some Nokia phones:


    If Microsoft knows how to do anything, it’s getting their technologies bundled with devices and other software packages. I know Flash Lite has been around for a while, but for people starting out with Flex, it’d be interesting to see if Microsoft can get the next generation RIA plugin on mobile devices first.

  13. Pingback: The Gold Hold » Blog Archive » Silverlight beating Flex to mobile devices?

  14. Very nice post Doug.

    I’ve notice a buzz about this Silverlight Microshit thing and me and my boss started a discussion about it and the first thing I said was “Unless this silverlight has some really hyper yupi master really (again) cool features that i can’t find in flex or flash I’m not even bothering to install it”. Than I end up here where I read your post. I’m glad that i had a good argument.

    Against my will I installed the plugin. Checked some of those websites and i felt just like you. Good(?) old times. Felt like Flash 4 times.

    First of all, It crashed my browser (FF 2) on my first attempt. Secondly, very slow. I use mac myself and I notice the effects was very slow motion in the first demo you mentioned. It seems that if you have a lot of animations playing the same time it doesn’t really work well. Secondly, nothing impressive. Like you said, it lacks some good demos that could impact the community or at least let us be curious to go and try it. Finally, any of the demos i checked got close to make me consider install it.

    Serious… If they want to get into the competition they should do better than that.

    Rafael Cardoso
    Flex Developer

  15. I think people could say the same thing about AIR, where are all the great AIR apps? If you look at the Adobe AIR market place, there’s a whole lot of ehhh unimplessive stuff…but I think this is because it’s so new. Most devs don’t have time to tinker very deep in new technologies as they go from alpha through the beta cycle and to release (the ones that do are usually on the companies payroll). I know that my initial AIR application took two days of fixing from alpha to the first beta to get it working again, mostly because the application code base had grown so big at that point…

    These technologies are just emerging. I think to get a better look at what Silverlight 2.0 will be about (as we now know 1.0 is all about media streaming and customizing a media player), I think one should look at what WPF apps exist out there, and I’ve seen some pretty cool demos of WPF applications. (And you’ve mentioned the great 3d stuff…I can’t wait for Flash/Silverlight to be hard-ware accelerated..it will come).

    Plus like those said above, as long as Microsoft keeps marketing machine making noise about Silverlight 2.0, managers of .NET shops are going to keep waiting. I have several clients who are interested in RIA, don’t want to futz with much AJAX anymore, but they’re waiting for Silverlight as they’re primarily .NET shops, which means all the tools they need will eventually be included in their MSDN subscriptions and their devs won’t have to learn a new language syntax (weak argument in my book).

    Also, since the 1.1 alpha (renamed 2.0 since) that’s almost a year old, we haven’t seen any public bits. The 2.0 beta should be here soon, and then I think things will get interesting when us devs can actually start mucking with it. I imagine a lot of stuff from 1.1 will be outdated by now and broken (just look at how many AIR apps were broken as the AIR release cycle matured towards release).

    I saw a video on an application called Family.Show by Vertigo Software. It’s not Silverlight, it’s WPF, so that ‘s cheating…but it shows that the .NET community will be very capable of producing some great stuff once the 2.0 comes and they get their paws on it.

    Also, one comment, why would there exist a bunch of cool Silverlight apps now (especially not build by Microsoft or one of thier partners) if 2.0 beta isn’t even out yet? True, 1.0 was quite uninspiring, but as I said, that was more targeted at media. Silverlight 2.0 is going to be thier first release really targeted at RIA development.

    Anyway, it’s good to see you as a Flex/Flash leader being open and keeping your eyes on the competitions technology. In the long run, you’ll benefit because you’ll be able to speak intelligently about both technologies, and when client’s want to know “why are you suggesting Flex over Silverlight” you’ll be able to explain.

  16. I do have to agree with you though, at MIX08 there’s a lot of talk about the new new Silverlight beta 1 application over at Hard Rock Cafe: http://memorabilia.hardrock.com/ . Not all that exciting though, I’ve seen plenty of Flex and Flash demos similar to this written up over at ely’s blog (or someone’s) a long time ago. Zoom and then load. *yawn*. Welcome to the richer internet, MSFT.

    But, it looks like the rest of us can finally play with with Silverlight 2 b1: http://silverlight.net/GetStarted/#betajump

  17. All I needed to see with Silverlight is that it didn’t work with my browser of choice, Opera. So I always have to ‘open in Firefox’ to see the fancy Silverlight stuff.

    While that may be an Opera issue as much as a Microsoft issue, the Flash player ubiquity is the key, and from the comments I’m reading, player version issues as well.

    Of course, I’m open to learning the platform and developing on it – but probably only if it gets demanded by a client so that there is some money to back up my time.

  18. Funny enough, Silverlight actually runs perfectly well in Opera. The only thing is that all Microsoft powered Silverlight examples have a browser check to display the “get silverlight here” button.
    Go ahead, compile a silverlight application and open it in Opera.. works like a charm, once the plugin is installed for IE.
    So all we’re waiting for is an installer that can run from within Opera. Shouldn’t take too long as I read it’s next on the list.

  19. Mark says:

    I’m still trying to figure out how to create a website with blend one? Oh wait a minute you can’t,
    seems as though you need Visual studio to do that, or is it the blend beta 2 December with the
    Silverlight alpha 1 sdk’s or the blend 2.5 beta that will expire on July 1st. I just wanted to point
    out that Microsoft needs to get their poop in a group and just come out with a real final
    release of blend for silverlight web creation.

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