Why Developers Should, Must, Do Care About The New Expression Blend

Okay, tough love: if you are serious about Silverlight development, the days of using one Integrated Development Environment for all you work are…. over.  The benefits of adding Expression Blend to your toolkit, and getting serious about learning how to use it well are so overwhelming that you can no longer afford to ignore them.

So, get over it, it was nice, but the fat lady has sung.

Blend? For Developers?

I’ll let you in on a secret, it took us by surprise as well. I don’t think I’ll get fired for saying that three years ago we didn’t think a lot of developers would need Blend to do their job. It was more for designers or for Silverlight Hermaphrodites like my buddies Adam Kinney and Corey Schumann who are both designers and developers (It’s a dessert topping – no it’s a floor wax![1])

eggwithlight But them days is over. Today, no serious Silverlight developer can get their job done without being proficient in Blend, and if you’ve not taken the time to learn Blend, now is the time. This is true for a number of reasons:

  • Blend 4 was released today and the cost/benefit equation is now overwhelming.
  • The Blend folks have created an amazing set of tutorials for those of us who are design-challenged.  [ free!]
  • Even better, they just released a 5 day on ramp [free!]

Most important, you do not want to create storyboards or templates in Visual Studio.

WARNING: If you are developing in Silverlight for Windows Phone 7, do not install the released version of Expression Studio 4. You must continue to use the Blend 4 Beta and Add-in Preview for Windows Phone.

The Beta will be refreshed every time the Phone SDK is, and then will be unified with Blend 4 Release in a service-pack, to be released with the WP7 SDK.

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Blend [2]

Let me be clear. You do not need Blend to program in Silverlight. You can use Visual Studio (or Notepad, if you like). As my friend David Platt said once “You can also do an appendectomy through your throat, it just takes longer and hurts more.”

Blend is a convenience – like you know, food.

Blend For Developers – A Series

I’ve started a series on Getting started with Silverlight for non-Silverlight Developers.  This post (the one you’re reading now and thinking about skipping over) marks the beginning of a second series on Blend For Developers. See the pretty folder in the sidebar? That’s how you can follow the series.  This series is targeted at experienced Silverlight developers who have decided to bite the bullet and learn Blend.  The general approach I’ll be taking is this:

  • UI in Blend
  • Logic in Visual Studio
  • MVVM Unless There’s A Good Reason Otherwise
  • Much more on this soon…

    So, What Happened Today?

    Expression Blend 4 has a lot of new features, but the three most critical for developers are these

  1. VS2010 compatibility – no import/export, work on the same projects and files
  2. Mockup controls – this is a fantastic resource for developers. I love these because (a) I can do a mockup of what I have in mind very quickly (and I personally believe mockups are the very best specs!) and because it looks like a mockup, which means I don’t have to apologize for my stick-figure artistic capabilities.  MVP Don Burnett has a very nice introduction to Mockup Controls.And while you’re checking out Mockup Controls, do not fail to check out Sketchables by the most amazing and intrepid Swiss wunderkind Philipp Sumi
  3. MVVM Support – cooked right into the new project template in Blend.  For a quick introduction to why you care about this, please see my earlier posting: MVVM – It’s Not  KoolAide.

Resources And More Info

There are many other very cool features in 4 as well, but the right place to read about them is on Adam Kinney’s blog.  Here are some additional resources as well:

The definitive list of resources for Blend is here – created and maintained by Adam. Though not specifically targeted at Developers, this is the place to start.


[1] Refers to a Saturday Night Live parody of the old Certs slogan

[2] See both John Houston’s Treasure of Sierra Madre and Mel Brook’s Blazing Saddles

[Special thanks to John Papa for helping me understand what’s important in Blend 4]

About Jesse Liberty

Jesse Liberty has three decades of experience writing and delivering software projects and is the author of 2 dozen books and a couple dozen online courses. His latest book, Building APIs with .NET will be released early in 2025. Liberty is a Senior SW Engineer for CNH and he was a Senior Technical Evangelist for Microsoft, a Distinguished Software Engineer for AT&T, a VP for Information Services for Citibank and a Software Architect for PBS. He is a Microsoft MVP.
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