Siverlight / WPF adoption over WinForms


I saw a couple of interesting discussions on LinkedIn this week with a few people discussing the merits / costs of using one of the XAML-based .NET frameworks compared to either WinForms or ASP .NET. Now, I’m somewhat reticent to compare SL to ASP .NET / HTML etc. as the two (to my mind) aren’t direct competitors. But WinForms and WPF, to me, seem like two technologies that are competing for the same space, with WPF destined to replace WinForms in the medium term; obviously since it came out it appears like it hasn’t been widely adopted, but I think this year we’ll see a larger uptake in WPF adoption particularly, for a number of reasons: –

  • Wider adoption by third-party component suppliers. DevExpress, Infragistics, DevComponents, RAD etc. are all shipping slick-looking WPF components such as gauges, grids, navigation panels.
  • Improved developer experience in Visual Studio 2010. VS2010 has better design time support now, which means that if you come from a WinForms background you should find the mental hurdle of writing forms in XML less so.

Anyway, my main point if really about this: Which of the following do you see WPF as being used for? Either: –

  1. Graphically intensive applications e.g. 3-D animation, animations etc.
  2. Line of business (LOB) applications – primarily data capture over a domain model sourced from a database, with validation etc.
  3. Financial applications – graphs, some data capture, real time ticker feeds etc.

Believe it or not, the answer is – all three! The main point for this article is this: I was surprised when I realised that a lot of people see WinForms as the preferred platform for writing LOB applications, despite the fact that WinForms offers very little over WPF now, whereas WPF offers some really compelling reasons for such an application, such as the awesome data-binding or the much more powerful control over behaviour and look of your controls e.g. listboxes in WinForms were effectively useless for direct binding whereas in WPF they’re actually very useful thanks to data templates.

I also see people that believe that if you are writing a WPF application, it must use fancy animation, or worse still, that that is the only time that you should use WPF. Or that you cannot use WPF without being an expert in Blend. I’d disagree with all of these points! Whether you’re using WPF or WinForms shouldn’t affect whether you need animation in your application – is it a requirement? Then the technology choice is irrelevant! Do you need to do complex animation / styling? Then probably use Blend. If you just want to writing a simple LOB application (where perhaps the styling is not a core requirement) then don’t bother! I guess the upshot of this rant is this:

Don’t judge a technology only by what new features it brings to the table. Judge it by everything that you can do with it.

I personally see WPF as a full on replacement for WinForms, and encourage you to think of it as such, too. And if you want to get into it but don’t know how, I would suggest this. The next time you need to write a little in-house application to help you out in your day-to-day tasks, or write a tool to e.g. configure your main application to give to administrators/end-users – write in in WPF. Start small, with low-risk applications and solutions. Build up your knowledge of what it does and how it works slowly, but surely.

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