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Which is likely to require lowest tech support calls - Visual Studio Desktop or Web via ASP.net or Silverlight?

Posted on 2011-09-05
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I'm an experienced VBA developer (mostly Access databases) and I have a need to develop a retail solution that will be installed at dozens or maybe hundreds of different small businesses.

I'm a one man shop and I'm very nervous about creating a tech support nightmare.

The program will not be very complex. It will have some database connectivity and a few simple UI forms. It will also make some API calls to an online service.

I'd like your opinions on which route is likely to produce fewer tech support issues. I'm not really talking about my program not working, but more like installation problems/confusions, getting connected to the database, the potential that the user is not very computer savvy.

I don't really know what to expect.

I'm more comfortable in my skillset creating a desktop app. But, I wonder if creating the whole thing as a web app would reduce the potential for tech support issues. And, I assume updates would be a whole lot easier, since I just update the server.

I also would like to create a slick UI, so I'm considering Silverlight or something like that.

My IDE will be Visual Studio with MS Expression Engine.

What are your thoughts?
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Question by:Kaprice
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by:disrupt
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by:ivan_vagunin
ID: 36485535
Hi!
1) The web application is the best to simplify upgrade and maintenence - the code is stored centralized on server, no need to install application on every client machine - so it very easy to upgrade and monitor work of your code (collect logs etc.). No additional software required to be installed on client except browser. The only thing to worry about is cross-browser compability. But the other side of ASP.Net application is NOT very rich UI. So if you need only severals simple forms - the ASP.Net application is what you need.
2) The desktop application can have very rich UI but it's hard to maintain and upgrade
3) The silverlight is a kind of compromise between desktop and web application. It has rich UI, but the code is executed on client side so it is harder to monitor your application. Besides the silverlight runtime need to be installed on client. The advantage is that upgrade of silverlight application is easier because the code is downloaded from server before executing on client.
4) Another way to enrich web application UI is to use ajax, but it encreases risk of cross-browser problems.
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If it is for external customers, this is debatable. If it is for use in-house however, there is no question, most of the time, that Windows Applications, what you call "Visual Studio Desktop", is the best approach.

They are easier to code and at the same time offer far better interfaces and user experience (that is a great source of lower support).

You do not have the problem of users coming in with different browsers or different versions of the same browser.

They can be used offline.

They are the easiest to use as far as security is concerned, while leaving you a greater latitude as a programmer, because Windows applications have greater rights on the local machine.

Contrary to what many says, they now update as easily as web applications with ClickOnce, specially if deployment is done in-house.

Silverlight is a newer technology, so it cannot do everything that Windows applications can do. There are still issues with upgrades on some computers.
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by:TommySzalapski
ID: 36486754
I wouldn't fret too much. Most companies that use apps like yours will have an IT guy that they often go to first who will help with most issues.

Don't give out your phone number on your support page. Give an email address or helpdesk ticket system.

You may get 50 people who need help, but 40 of them will have the same two or three issues.

The common issues that you forsee people having should be built into a FAQ on your support page to help people solve their problems themselves (set up your links so the have to see the FAQ before they can post a help request).

As unforseen issues come in, store your solutions somewhere so that you can copy and paste responses to others who have the same issue. If an issue keeps happening, add it to the FAQ.
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by:Kaprice
ID: 36487430
Silverlight is a newer technology, so it cannot do everything that Windows applications can do. There are still issues with upgrades on some computers.

James Burger: Can you clarify this? If I dev in Silverlight, I can still have problems?
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by:TommySzalapski
ID: 36487598
I would agree. All the apps I have seen in Silverlight require extra installations and updates (which bring frustration and headaches to those not adept at computers). They also seem bogged down and buggy from what I have seen.
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by:disrupt
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by:TommySzalapski
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disrupt, please see http://www.experts-exchange.com/blogs/WaterStreet/B_2918-Use-of-Links.html regarding posting bare links.
I agree with all the points in that article. It's nice to see at least a brief description of what the link contains.
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disrupt earned 167 total points
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http://timheuer.com/blog/archive/2010/06/30/silverlight-top-issues-reported.aspx

This article goes through some of the top issues using Silverlight in detail. I think it would be beneficial for you to take a look at it.
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by:Kaprice
ID: 36491081
http://timheuer.com/blog/archive/2010/06/30/silverlight-top-issues-reported.aspx

This article goes through some of the top issues using Silverlight in detail. I think it would be beneficial for you to take a look at it.

That's the same as the earlier post, right?
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by:disrupt
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Yes correct same as earlier post just wanted to give a brief description.
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by:CodeCruiser
CodeCruiser earned 166 total points
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Not sure if this has been said before

>a retail solution that will be installed at dozens or maybe hundreds of different small businesses.

If you go the Desktop route, you would have to deal with the distribution, installation, upgrade, uninstallation problems as well. Also, you may have clients running different, old and new, versions of the app which will be confusing. On the positive side, you DB structure would be simpler and you would just copy the app for each customer.

If you go the Web route, all the deployment will be central which would make it easier. Any changes and bug fixes will be visible immediately to all the customers. However, you would have to maintain/backup the app/data and the DB structure would be a bit complex as single app will deal with all clients.
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Silverlight is a newer technology, so it cannot do everything that Windows applications can do. There are still issues with upgrades on some computers.


James Burger: Can you clarify this? If I dev in Silverlight, I can still have problems?


Sorry, I am out of the office this week, a little late in my answer.

Silverlight is a newer technologies. It does not have the same maturity as Windows Applications that have been there for years. Very fancy interfaces. If you want fancy, go for it. But if you want user friendly interfaces... For the same type of control, expect less properties, less methods, less events. That makes things easier in some ways, but the more of those you have, the more you can control what happens in the application.

There are also updates issues with Silverlight. Some people have problems installing updates on their computer. They get the update through Windows Update or other means, they try to install it and it fails. This has been reported over and over, some of the previous posts give a hint of this.
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by:CodeCruiser
ID: 36498706
Silverlight is not meant to replace windows forms. Its a web development platform which allows you to do more than possible with ASP.NET such as access file system and provide more richer user interface. It also enables users to run the application in both a browser and as a desktop app. Not sure what update problems JamesBurger is referring to.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microsoft_Silverlight
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by:Jacques Bourgeois (James Burger)
Jacques Bourgeois (James Burger) earned 167 total points
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Look at the new Visual Studio LightSwitch, which uses Silverlight for Windows, Web and Cloud deployment, and you will see that Silverlight is not seen only toward web (ASP.NET) applications. Do not believe everything you read on Wikipedia.

The update problem is that on many computers running Windows 7, every time you hit a web site that requires the newer version of Silverlight, you get a popup that tells you that you need to upgrade. The problem is that nothing happens when you click on the acceptance button, so you cannot display the web page. 2 of my customers are actually suffering from that on 2 different computers, and when you search for a solution, you end up with one of those problem where you get 300 different solutions, but none of it works on your system.
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by:Kaprice
ID: 36515323
Lots of good comments and it mostly confirmed my suspicions that it's 6 of one, half a dozen of the other. So, more a matter of opinion.

I mostly appreciated the warnings about Silverlight. As cool as that technology appears to be, the update problem is a big issue, and I confirmed it's common by googling it. Too many developers complaining about it.

If anyone's curious, I think I'll go with desktop solution for now.
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