Internet Architect by day, environmentalist by night: Jim Schwartz @ imason.
Earlier this year I headed up a development team to build 2 Silverlight applications for The Weather Network. The first application to be released a few weeks ago is “WeatherEye Golf” (press release) which provides weather information for over 17,000 golf courses in Canada and the U.S. The second app that was just released last week is called “TrafficEye” (press release) which provides up-to-the-minute traffic information for the Greater Toronto Area (With plans to expand out to other areas). It includes traffic flow, highway conditions, traffic incidents, and traffic cameras. You can save up to 10 of your favourite highway cameras (If you download it now, you will be entered to win 1 of 2 Xbox 360 Game Consoles!!).
These applications were quite unique because they needed to be downloadable and run on the desktop. Silverlight has several benefits over the other options we had explored. First of all, Silverlight runs as a web application, so it’s very easy to update in the future; you don’t need to push out updates to the desktop, and the user doesn’t need to re-install anything. One of the issues with the flagship WeatherEye product (Which is purely a desktop application) is that they need to push out updates to users which can be very time consuming since there are approximately 2 million active users of the WeatherEye product. With Silverlight, the IT Staff simply needs to update the Web Application and the next time the user runs the app, they will have the latest version.
Another benefit of Silverlight is the fact that you can easily port the application over to any web site, by simply adding an <object> tag to the HTML. Whether it’s a PHP page, ASPX, JSP, HTML, you can display the Silverlight application anywhere.
The third benefit of Silverlight is the platform independence. We have a Mac version of the TrafficEye application that we are planning to release in the near future. It’s pretty neat to see a Microsoft solution running on a Mac desktop.
To display the Silverlight application on the desktop we built a Visual Basic 6 application that displays a browser frame, (while in Mac we are using a Cocoa application developed using the XCode tools). The desktop shim is very basic and allows us to consolidate the application functionality in Silverlight. Silverlight uses Isolated Storage to persist user settings. We chose VB6 so that it will run on various desktop configurations without requiring the .NET framework, and also to keep the installation as small as possible.
Overall I’m happy with the result of the applications. There are a couple kinks on certain desktop configurations, but overall the response from the public has been positive so far.
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Why and where you will be needing a VB6 shim? What is the advantage?