LP on .NET

September 1, 2007

Microsoft Expression Blend

Filed under: .NET,Orcas,technology,Visual Studio,WPF — Larry Parker @ 12:47 am

The first thing I did after installing Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2 was to check out the new visual designer for WPF.  My first impression was that it definitely worked better than the Cider add-in for Visual Studio 2005, but it was still missing something to give me a good visual design experience for my WPF app.

I heard mention of Microsoft Expression Blend after reading some blogs, and I even saw a demo at someone’s desk, but it looked like it was more targeted towards graphic artists than developers.  In fact, Microsoft’s site even says this about it:

Design cutting-edge user interfaces and collaborate with developers to bring these stunning new types of applications to life.

Collaborate with developers?  I am a developer, so this possibly couldn’t be what I needed!  But one morning I came to work and figured I would give it a shot, and after using it for a couple of weeks now, I have found it to be a very useful tool!

First of all, it works reasonably well with a WPF project under Visual Studio 2005.  You don’t need to convert your 2005 project to the new Visual Studio format (which was a plus for me because I’m not yet ready to do serious development under 2008 Beta 2).

The screen layout of Expression Blend is very nice, although it does get a bit crowded with the various panels and there is not much real estate provided for the “Artboard” that contains your WPF form.  I solved this by increasing my secondary monitor to the highest resolution and now it’s pretty acceptable.

Speaking of two monitors, I have found it to be very productive to run Expression Blend on one monitor and Visual Studio on the other.  This lets me work in Expression Blend for the visual design aspect of my app, and Visual Studio for the C# coding as well as the XAML.  Expression Blend does let you edit the XAML for your form, but Visual Studio is a better editor for this.  Once you save your app (in either tool), the other is smart enough to recognize the change and ask you if you wish to reload it.

One of the projects I am working on uses some customized styles to shape the application’s window (e.g. cornering off the edges using transparency).  The new Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2 WPF designer did not show me these changes at design-time, but Expression Blend did!  Visual Studio 2008 Beta 2 did read some of the styles (e.g. custom buttons), but Expression Blend seems to be more in touch with your customizations.

Anyway, I wanted to share my initial experience with these two tools and let you know that Expression Blend is not just for the graphic artist who knows nothing about programming!  And as a graphically challenged developer, Expression Blend is bringing out a creative part of me I didn’t know I had!  🙂


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