We often get questions from our customers about which of the multitude of app frameworks that Microsoft provides for .NET developers they should pick. WinForms? WPF? Silverlight? ASP.NET? What’s the right solution for their problem? The answer is always the same: it depends.

Unfortunately, that’s not very helpful, so we sat down and figured out just what it depends on and whether we can offer clear, concise guidance for our customers. The answer was “yes we can”.

2012 has been a busy year which included two major events in the life of a .NET developer: Silverlight desktop and web have been shelved and Windows 8 has been born. So, with that in mind, we’ve updated the platform guidance to take those two important changes to the .NET developer landscape into account; you can read all about it in the Telerik’s 2012 platform guidance for .NET developers.

Desktop Application

Desktop applications represent the range of applications from those supporting internal information workers to those delighting consumers. These applications typically involve richly interactive interfaces, either for heavy-duty data management or entertainment. They key characteristic of desktop apps is the need to take advantage of the full range of native capabilities of the platform.

Ideal .NET Platform: WPF

WPF provides the ideal platform for building desktop apps. With mature, rich tooling provided in Visual Studio and Expression Blend, readily available components that address the full range of app styles, a large developer community and ClickOnce deployment, WPF gives the .NET developer all of the power of building “native” Windows software with a simple deployment model.

Key Advantages of WPF:

  • Mature platform with 1st class support for rich media and data visualization
  • Excellent tooling and active developer community
  • Rich, deep access to the native Windows platform
  • Simple deployment and updates with ClickOnce
  • Good availability of complete 3rd party toolsets

[Special Silverlight Guidance Note: Silverlight is also a good candidate for building desktop apps, sharing many of the same characteristics of WPF. While it seems clear that Microsoft will not release a major version beyond the recently released Silverlight 5, their commitment to 10 more years of support as well as continued 3rd party vendor support means that it’s a viable alternative for WPF development for new or existing Silverlight projects.]

Tablet Application

The use of tablets and touch-centric apps within companies is on the rise, and tablet sales are expected to double in 2012 (Gartner). Unlike their mobile smartphone counterparts, which frequently complement existing desktop apps, analysts see the potential for tablets to be more disruptive, replacing certain types of desktop apps in the enterprise. For .NET developers, it is important to address this trend and pick a Microsoft platform that will deliver the best tablet experience. Many platforms available from Microsoft can be used to build touch-enabled apps, even WinForms, but Microsoft is providing clear guidance for modern, touch-first apps with the arrival of Windows 8.

Microsoft’s Windows 8 introduces a new model for building touch-enabled, tablet friendly apps that are meant to be content-focused, easy to use with no documentation, touch-centric and tailored to the device. These apps will run in a new dedicated environment only available in Windows 8.

Since Microsoft is making it clear that Windows 8 is their ideal platform for tablet apps, the bigger question developers must answer is how to develop tablet apps. Tablet apps can be built with either XAML/.NET or HTML/JavaScript. Both approaches have access to the full capabilities of the device and share a common Windows Runtime API.

Ideal Tablet Platform: XAML and .NET

When building Windows 8 tablet apps, choosing between XAML/.NET and HTML/JS largely depends on the kinds of existing assets within an organization and the skills of the developers, but we recommend XAML and .NET for most tablet app development. Tablet apps built with XAML and .NET not only offer the familiar .NET programming paradigms (and tools) that have been popularized over years of .NET and XAML development, but a large amount of the code, assets and skills carry over to Windows Phone 8 (WP8) app development. In contrast, it is not possible to leverage HTML/JS assets if you’re also building apps for WP8.

If supporting WP8 is not a key consideration for your tablet development, then it is important to know that Microsoft has worked to ensure the capabilities, tooling and run-time performance for both XAML and HTML tablet apps is as close to identical as possible. At that point, your choice between the two options is about the past and future technology strategy of your organization, not the capabilities of the platform.

So while we primarily recommend XAML and .NET for tablet app development, here are key advantages to both approaches that should be considered:

Key Advantages of XAML for building Metro-style apps:

  • Based on the same core tools, assets and techniques of WPF and Silverlight.
  • Comprehensive access to the underlying Windows Runtime (WinRT).
  • Extensible with native C++ components for performance-intensive activities or complete access to the underlying WinRT.
  • The same XAML tooling and techniques are available to native C++ programmers, if you feel the need to write your complete XAML-based tablet app in native code.
  • App code, assets and skills reusable between Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8

Key Advantages of HTML for building Metro-style apps:

  • Based on the same core HTML, JavaScript and CSS engines that power IE10.
  • Built to support 3rd party libraries, e.g. jQuery, as much as possible (although the sandbox security model can introduce challenges for certain libraries).
  • Comprehensive access to the underlying Windows Runtime (WinRT).
  • Extensible with native C++ components for performance-intensive activities or complete access to the underlying WinRT.
  • Lower learning curve for developers more familiar and comfortable with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS than XAML.

    • [Game support note: Both Windows Phone and Windows 8 provide access to DirectX for building high-performance “twitch” games. This access is provided via .NET XNA in Windows Phone 7 and via native DirectX in Windows 8. If you are planning on building high-performance games for these Microsoft platforms, we suggest this third option .]

      Where are we?

      It’s clear that Silverlight is in no sense “dead.” At our company, we still sell a large number of licenses to Silverlight developers, although from an engineering point-of-view, we spend more time making sure we’re taking the best advantage we can of WPF. Also, even if we don’t recommend starting new desktop or web deployment projects in Silverlight, it’s still alive and well on Windows Phone 7 & 8 and it provides an excellent springboard into XAML development on Windows 8. If you think of Silverlight as one of Microsoft’s implementations of XAML, along with WPF and the Windows 8 support, you’ll have the right mindset to move your Silverlight web and desktop apps, developers, skills and assets forward to WPF on the desktop, Silverlight on the phone and XAML on Windows 8.

      If you are interested in Windows 8 development make sure to check Telerik’s native Windows 8 UI controls for both XAML and HTML environments. Download a free trial.

      Do not miss Telerik Q3 webinar week which offers summary of the latest and greatest from all Telerik products that will boost your .NET productivity. Sign-up for the webinar week here.

About the Author

Chris Sells



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