MI/SCADA Software: Big Changes for 2012

It seemed like Microsoft was taking its time with new operating system releases only a short time ago. XP became dominant in many homes and offices for years, and it’s still the prevalent solution for many. Windows Vista came after this and brought a number of unwelcome changes along with a plethora of issues, which made businesses hesitant to “upgrade.” Windows 7 has fared better however, so this has left some wondering why Windows 8 will be coming out so soon (2012). Every time a company has to upgrade it can be very costly, so we’d like to clue you in on this upcoming release and how it will affect your MI/SCADA software.

Microsoft recently created some controversy among the software development community with the announcement of plans for the next version of Windows which is scheduled for release in 2012. But before we get into what this change means for MI software, let me give some history on enhanced web user interfaces.

Most web pages don’t have as advanced a user interface as desktop applications due to HTML4’s limited features and the response time lag interacting with a remote server. Flash is a technology that allows web pages to act more like desktop applications with complex user interface features. Flash has been around a long time and is installed on approximately 98% of all computers.

Since web developers could count on Flash being available, most complex UI features on the web such as streaming videos, games and even some pop-ups have been programmed in Flash. Five years ago, Microsoft came out with a competing technology called Silverlight. Silverlight has grown, but even after five years it is only installed on around 65% of computers. In the last few years some of the MI/SCADA software companies have incorporated Silverlight into a few of their products. Rockwell uses Silverlight in their FactoryTalk ViewPoint product, and Wonderware implements it in their latest Wonderware Information Server portal product.

Sure, Microsoft has a heavy impact on the software industry, but where does Apple fit into the picture, and how do mobile devices come enter the fray? And that’s not to mention the Internet, which is the 400 pound gorilla in the room. Regardless of the upcoming operating system, Microsoft has to respect and address the medium and its many complexities or suffer the consequences. What does all this mean for you?

Apple claims that Flash causes performance issues, system crashes and security risks, and therefore prevents it from being used in iOS, the iPhone operating system. Apple has presented open standards HTML5 and JavaScript as a better solution than Flash. Google and Microsoft have also supported these technologies; but so far Microsoft has not jumped in with both feet, since it continues to push its Silverlight technology. In Microsoft’s latest major user interface redesign for the Windows Phone 7 it touted the advantages of WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), a closely related technology to Silverlight.

With this background Microsoft surprised many when it announced it would be basing Windows 8 on HTML5 and JavaScript technology and did not even mention Silverlight or WPF. Obviously this has caused angst among developers that have spent much money and effort learning and developing applications in Silverlight and WPF. Microsoft says it will tell more about what this means for Silverlight, but not until September. Developers will be anxious to find out Microsoft’s plans for Silverlight.

Most people realize the advantages of using web based software for MI projects. A web based system eliminates the need to install MI software on every client computer within the plant. It also provides a single location for making software changes and improvements that are instantly available to every client throughout the plant. For developers who have witnessed Microsoft obsolete technologies such as OCX and OLE when they came out with the newer .NET technology, it will be interesting to see if/when Microsoft phases out Silverlight for HTML5 and how quickly the MI/SCADA vendors begin supporting HTML5.