I just finished XAML fest, a two day introduction to SilverLight, XAML and Expression Blend. The event was held at Microsoft’s New England R&D Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The class centered around building a small web app using SilverLight. A lot of time was spent learning how to use Blend to build user interfaces.
Having spent a good portion of my career building Windows apps, I’ve had the opportunity to create UIs using the Win32 API, OWL, MFC, WTL and wxWidgets. I’ve dabbled in WPF but never did much with it since I’ve been spending most of my free time tinkering with Cocoa and Cocoa-Touch. What I really like about using XAML is that you can lay out an entire interface, including a lot of behavior without writing a single line of code.
If you really want to, you can lay out the entire interface in XAML directly. But, if you’re like me and can’t stomach working with XML except for making minor tweaks here and there then Blend is a great tool to have in your design toolkit.
Prior to this, I had no idea what Blend was. I saw it on the MSDN subscriber downloads site, but it wasn’t clear to me exactly what it was. It was obviously some kind of design tool, but the description on the site made it sound more like a PhotoShop or Illustrator competitor than a UI design tool.
Well, it is a UI design tool. A very powerful if not always intuitive one at that. It complements Visual Studio nicely. The intent is that a designer would use Blend to design the interface and a programmer would use Visual Studio to implement the actual application. You can open the same solution (.sln) files with either product, although you need to be careful if you open the same solution with both products at once. Which version of a file is on disk depends on who saved last.
You can build and run solutions with Blend and you can also make UI changes in Visual Studio, but you will usually want to use each product for the task is more suited to do.
If you’re interested in building SilverLight or WPF apps (Blend supports those too), I would recommend attending one of these sessions. If you can’t get to one, they also have them online. Google xaml fest to find the next one.