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Media Center, Windows Phone7 + Silverlight Goodness..

Silverlight Sidebar Gadgets DOA on 64bit Vista

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I’m somewhat confused and disappointed all at the same time – to learn that Silverlight doesn’t appear to be natively supported on Vista 64bit. (although you can run it via WOW64 layer in Internet Explorer 7).

Lack of native 64bit support means that once again – there’s no decent/clean solutions for using Silverlight for Windows Sidebar gadgets (as WOW64 doesn’t appear to be used/supported in here) – and if you try to use any of the Silverlight gadget samples out there you will get the mangled message below.

Note that as with XBAP – the loading message ignores the host dimensions – and doesn’t gracefully resize itself (to accomodate the 132 pixel wide maxmimum size provided by a docked gadget) – although at least this time you can see more of the text (with XBAP you only catch part of the first word on the loading message).

If I click through on the above ‘Get Microsoft Silverlight’ message – IE is launched – and of course since Silverlight is already installed (32 bit version) – there’s nothing to download or install at that point.

Note that I also experienced similar behaviour trying to load Silverlight 1.1 Alpha in Sidebar (above sample is Silverlight 1.0).

UPDATE :  I actually found a workaround/hack in this post which mentions that you can ‘kill’ the 64bit sidebar.exe process – and launch the 32 bit version instead to get all the 32bit goodness working on Vista64 (the one in the Program Files x86 folder). While this might solve some problems for the more technically minded – I can’t see it being widely implemented by the general public – so still remains an undesirable/unsupported scenario. (however maybe if someone wrote a dead-easy-to-use util that makes all the appropriate system changes and makes the 32bit version load by default – then this could be the answer?).

Silverlight – not really ‘cross platform’ (yet)….

So once again I’m pretty disappointed to learn that 64bit Vista (once again) has been treated as a second class citizen in the world of Windows Sidebar + WPF (and any other containers using similar underlying hosting technique). 

So I’m going to really question use of the phrase ‘cross platform support‘ in relation to Silverlight.  ie. there’s a Mac version and a 32bit windows version – so at the end of the day it’s not too disimilar to MS Office or Adobe Photoshop which allow loading of files created on either platform (and I’ve NEVER heard anyone call these products ‘cross platform’).

What I really would have liked (well expected actually) – was native Silverlight support on 64 bit Windows and PocketPC platforms. While I get the desire for Microsoft to ‘target’ Mac designers and get some Kudos in the Apple press – it’s a half baked effort (you won’t be running Expression Blend on Mac anytime soon) –  Microsoft should really have worried about ‘their own back yard’ as the first point of call (ie. existing/popular o/s platforms that are out there today).

 

So what options are left for Sidebar Gadgets (that look like they were created this decade)….

Windows Sidebar ‘was’ touted as being one of the new core UX experiences that was going to (help) compell users to upgrade to Vista. However in reality – the only ‘supported’ + ‘approved’ technologies for Sidebar development is DHTML/Javascript (thats the ‘official’ word from Microsoft everytime I enquire about using WPF, Flash or something else).

This again doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – as only allowing 10+ year old technologies (HTML/Javascript) to be utilitized results in some pretty lame products. Yes they look pretty due to transparent png support – but once you want to animate anything (or have some intelligent behind the scenes code running) – you’re left with the very crappy and clunky DHTML engine – and a very weak development platform (javascript).  It ends up being very WEB 1.0 – not WEB 2.0…

Although ‘unsupported’ your current options for Sidebar Gadgets seem to be the following :

 

Technology

 Vista32 Sidebar

 Vista64 Sidebar

 HTML/Javascript
(Ajax etc)

 Supported

(same as 32bit)

 Loose XAML

 Unsupported (but will work with slow/clunky loading experience)

(same as 32bit)

 XBAP

Unsupported (but will work with slow/clunky loading experience).
If used only in Flyout – user experience is somewhat cleaner (delay is relegated to the flyout).

(same as 32bit)

 WPF (ElementHost inside ActiveX wrapper)

 Unsupported – but will work (possibly quickest way to instantiate a WPF app in Sidebar 32).

Doesn’t work (32bit ActiveX not supported in Sidebar).

Silverlight 1.0 Beta (XAML + Javascript)

 Not officially supported – but works.

Doesn’t Work (no 64bit native Silverlight 1.0 version available).

Silverlight 1.1 Alpha
(XAML + .NET)

 Not officially supported – but works.

Doesn’t Work (no 64bit native Silverlight 1.1 version available).

 Flash

 Not officially supported – but works.

Doesn’t Work (no 64bit native flash version available).

 So as you will see above – the only ‘supported’ options left for 64bit is really HTML/Javascript – or using XBAP’s in a flyout window (which can result in a pretty ungraceful user experience).

Another scenario however, which seems to be almost the best option (depending on your requirements) – is to use the System.Shell.execute() javascript method to launch a seperate .exe file from your sidebar gadget (in place of a flyout). Although this newly launched window will be totally disconnected from the Sidebar host (making it trickier to send actions from the docked gadget to the new window) – you at least will be unshackled from the limitations of the Sidebar host. (and then you can deploy lean/mean WPF .exe’s which have much faster startup time than an XBAP).  This essentially can turn your Sidebar gadget into a more traditional ‘Desktop Gadget’ (where you could put an icon in the task bar?).. But the good news is that then XP/2003 users will also be able to use these gadgets (where .NET Framework 3.0 is manually installed).

 

Anyhow – I’m really hoping to see this whole situation changed in future (Vista SP1??) – but I’m not really holding my breath (as there are no announcements thus far indicating anything will be improved).

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Written by mobilewares

June 16, 2007 at 1:14 am

Posted in .NETv3

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