Tag Archives: RIA

Silverlight – User’s perspectives

Last year, I blogged my first Silverlight-related post and wondering how Silverlight will define the next-gen Web application. Now, I’m back with some opinions on Silverlight, but with one major difference. This time I will share some thoughts and perspectives from end users view instead of developers.

As Web developers, definitely you should have heard all the great things about Silverlight, from the rich animations, nicer look and feel, and so on. And well, yeah, we even already released two UI components based on Silverlight, so Silverlight is not a new thing at all. The idea of this post came across my mind while our team performed some usability research on this promising RIA platform, specifically on business application scenarios using Silverlight 2 entirely.

Sure Silverlight is still in beta, but I’m afraid some of the existing pitfalls could be the same point-of-failures that caused Adobe’s Flash to fail dominating the Web several years ago. I’m not trying to compare Silverlight and Flash in this post as the scope is too wide, however, I would like to start with my opinions of those pitfalls. The success of the future RIA will really depend on whether Microsoft can get rid of these problems in Silverlight.

Some of the following issues, are not specifically scoped on Silverlight alone. In fact, they apply to the rest RIA platforms as well, such as Adobe’s Flash, and other plug-in based RIA type. Again, please note that the below list is pointed out from user’s perspectives and experience, not developer.

  1. Good-bye to “Back” and “Forward” button.
    Most functions in the browsers such as Back/Forward, History, Bookmarks are no longer applicable in RIA type plug-in, including Silverlight. You no longer be able to use Back button to go back to the previous page of your application.
     
  2. Can’t live without context menu (right click).
    It’s unlikely that Silverlight will allow developers to handle right click event since it has to comply the browser’s standard to display the plug-ins own menu in order to allow users to modify its Settings. I believe most, if not all, users will severely affected with this limitation as they have used to perform right click for context menu.
     
  3. No copy-paste.
    Since RIA, particularly Silverlight in this context, is mimicking desktop application, everything becomes static. With labels, textblocks, rectangles and GUI controls, you can’t easily copy an information by selecting it and paste it for further processing. Furthermore, don’t think you can easily do “Select All” with the usual Ctrl+A or mouse selection.
     
  4. No hyperlink.
    The main concept of Web is that every piece of information can be easily linked everywhere, allowing users to easily navigate from one to another, as well as opening the link in new browser. RIA, however, has a different concept where it went back to the desktop era. Certainly, RIA is not a typical Website that display information, but I think users will miss “hyperlinks” a lot.
     
  5. Very minimal keyboard support.
    The Web, specifically W3C’s HTML as we speak, already have a great standards in accessibility features and keyboard support, and others. As users, we are used to see tooltips and press shortcut keys such as Alt+x to go to certain fields and so on. Silverlight, AFAIK so far, doesn’t seem to have that capability yet.

Not to mention the other technological-issues such as unindexable sites/pages. This means Google can’t index and show search results of your site/application, since Silverlight delivers binary, not text. Well, I don’t intend to spread negative images on Silverlight or any RIA approach — I do hope Microsoft can work something on these, or at least providing acceptable workarounds or solutions.

So, what do you think? As a computer user, do you think the above issues would become major showstoppers for Silverlight despite of its rich UI capabilities? Also if you are planning to develop business application using Silverlight 2.0 in near future, have you considered such usabilities features and issues? Do you think your users would be significantly affected with such limitations? Or, do you think you will stick on pure Web/AJAX application for a while longer? Feel free to share your thoughts here.

In my next post, I will cover some Silverlight issues from developers perspective, given the current state of Beta 2.

All the best,
Jimmy.