Total Training – Expression Blend Review Part 2
Well, 17 hours later I have completed my Blend Video Tutorial odyssey begun in Part 1. By the end, I was definitely feeling a little overwhelmed. Let’s face it: there is a lot to learn! Microsoft says this is the first significant shift in UI technology since the GUI was invented over 25 years ago, and I have to say they are right. Any such paradigm shift is going to cause its fair share of confusion and issues.
But let me say this here and now: it is going to all be worth it.
The Product Review
I covered most of it in the previous post, and watching another 8 hours of training only solidified my opinion: this is a good product. Gagne thoroughly knows the material and presents it in fine fashion. By the end of watching him work through samples and applications, I would at times feel like an old hat. I actually was able to grasp and understand the basics, and even learned a bit about using and navigating Blend. At the same time, I kept seeing new things and being amazed right up to the end.
I think the best thing about this product is that it wasn’t all theoretical garbage. I think we’ve all seen too many demos that don’t really show you anything. In this case, you get to actually watch him work and he does a great job of explaining exactly what he is doing and why. And if there is a downside, that is it as well: he occasionally spends too much time trying to explain C#, but like I said previously I can live with it.
I would be happy to recommend this series.
And now more on Blend
I wanted to mention a few things about Blend, XAML, and WPF that came to mind during this process.
First, there have been some grumblings in the community about the approach Microsoft took with Blend. The Microsoft theory is that Designers will use Blend to create the interfaces, and developers will use Visual Studio to provide the functionality. My guess is that most developers, yours truly included, are both designer and developer. As a result, we are a little annoyed that MS would try to keep tools from us by separating them. In other words, as I’ve heard the question asked before: “Why aren’t the Blend Tools simply part of Visual Studio?”
For a while, as both designer and developer, I have to admit I had the same questions. Now, however, I am starting to see the grand vision. First of all, there are a ton of graphical features in Blend, far more so than we have ever seen in VS. And some of these tools really are graphics designer oriented. In fact, graphics are the entire point of Blend, XAML, and WPF. Personally, I am not a graphics guy. I create websites, but rarely the graphics that go on them. In fact, I have often though that was the next step for me if I wanted to increase my Web skills.
But I’m not sure I have the patience or even really the desire to become a graphics guy. The good news is that I think the average developer can create some really cool stuff courtesy of Blend, without having to become a true graphic artist. What we don’t need is to have the vast amount of features and functions for Blend bloating up VS. I think MS has done the right thing by separating the two, and at the same time they have also done a great job of integrating the two products. You can, and I’m sure will, use them side by side, simultaneously working on the same projects and files.
The effects you can produce are nothing short of fantastic. Of course, you can still produce some really bad looking applications: “developer art” as Gagne once refers to it. But with a little effort and training, your apps can get a real boost. Also, because of the vector graphic nature of XAML and WPF, the design possibilities are virtually unlimited.
And now for the best news of all. I have seen several demos of XAML and WPF before, a couple of them even used Blend, but in each one the presenter eventually resorted to editing XAML code manually. This always seemed a kludge and a signal that this stuff was not ready for prime time. Well, I guess now it is: not once in the entire 17 hours of video did I see Gagne manually change or edit XAML code. He got all his results actually using Blend. Now it’s my turn, and I can’t wait!
Oh… one more quick note: I had written previously about my preference for Xara Xtreme as a graphics tool. That may still be true, but I think next in the series for me will be Expression Design. Why? Because you can export the graphics as XAML files and layers, which makes them completely consumable in Blend and WPF. Folks, this stuff is seriously cool!