SharePoint 2010 takes advantage of Silverlight to provide rich and interactive user interfaces. It also greatly simplifies hosting of media content and Silverlight applications within SharePoint by providing out-of-the-box Silverlight-enabled web parts. In this post I will point out some of these Silverlight enhancements and show you how easy it is to host media content in SharePoint.
If Silverlight is installed on the end-user’s computer, SharePoint uses it to show various UI elements that enhance user experience. It is not required thought to have Silverlight installed, because SharePoint also supports the “fall back” scenario, and replaces Silverlight elements with simple pages, plain text, or HTML content. Below are some examples of these UI elements.
Create Dialog lets you create various types of objects in SharePoint sites. The Silverlight control used here lets you search for these objects, and has animation effects applied to the icons. If Silverlight is not available, an old-style Create page is displayed, just like in SharePoint 2007, which is not interactive and not as user friendly.
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Figure 1 – Create Dialog in Silverlight
Figure 2 – Create page without Silverlight
The Organization Browser within My Sites also uses Silverlight to display an interactive diagram of the organization hierarchy, where you can zoom in and out and click on tiles to view employee information and people reporting to him/her. Without Silverlight the Organization Browser is replaced with a bulleted list of users.
Figure 3 – Organization Browser in Silverlight
Figure 4 – Organization Browser without Silverlight
Visio Services power various diagrams throughout SharePoint. For example, the Workflow Information page now includes an interactive Workflow Visualization diagram where you can easily see the status of the workflow. Without Silverlight this diagram is rendered with static images, and surprisingly looks pretty good.
Figure 5 – Workflow Visualization in Silverlight
Figure 6 – Workflow Visualization without Silverlight
Office Web Applications
Office Web Applications provide users an in-browser viewing and editing experience for Office documents. When Silverlight is installed, this experience is enhanced in Word and PowerPoint Web Apps. Specifically, text fidelity and animation smoothness is improved.
Figure 7 – Office Web App
Media Web Part
SharePoint 2010 also includes the cool new Media Web Part, which is a essentially a Silverlight control. It can be used to host any video of audio file stored in SharePoint or anywhere on the Web. You can add this web part to any page by clicking on the Video and Audio icon on the Insert tab in the SharePoint Ribbon.
Figure 8 – Media Web Part
After the web part is added, the Media Options tab is revealed in the ribbon when the web part is clicked.
Figure 9 – Media Web Part options
Here you can set the source of your media file by clicking on Change Media icon and pointing to any file from SharePoint, Web address, or your computer (in which case the file will be uploaded to SharePoint).
Figure 10 – Viewing a video in Media Web Part
As you can see, Microsoft is heavily betting on Silverlight by integrating it so deeply into SharePoint 2010. Traditionally, Microsoft has always been careful and almost hesitant to bring new or immature technologies into the Office platform in general and SharePoint in particular, but Silverlight has seen tremendous growth over the last few years and has proven to be a capable and reliable alternative to Adobe Flash. By providing support for Silverlight in SharePoint, Microsoft has opened unlimited possibilities for developers to create rich and interactive UIs for custom solutions.
Learn how to host your own Silverlight applications in SharePoint 2010 in my next blog post.