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 Pluralsight & LinkedIn Learning courses. 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 Xamarin Certified Mobile Developer and a Xamarin MVP and a Microsoft MVP.
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26 Responses to Why Developers Should, Must, Do Care About The New Expression Blend

  1. Deference to op , some superb selective information .

  2. Jonathan says:

    Hi Jesse,

    I guess I’m just not too clear on when I should be using Blend rather than Visual Studio. I am in the process of building a web application at the moment and definitely need to have a good interface. But what advantages do I get of using Blend over Visual Studio?

    Just really wanting to understand the pros and cons.

    Thank you.

  3. James Boddie says:

    Are you aware of the rather hostile licensing policy of Expression Studio? You may activate your purchased copy only two times. After this, there is no way to deactivate on one computer (which just died, say) and reactivate on its replacement. This is unlike other Microsoft products such as Windows and Office.

    Check out the Expression Studio forum:




    This is a pretty expensive piece of software for what benefit it provides and this policy is sure to drive people to avoid its use or even to look for alternative platforms.

  4. Pingback: Creating WPF Prototypes with SketchFlow | www.wiseinn.com

  5. Jim Stevens says:

    That bridge to nowhere is this link: http://www.microsoft.com/expression/resources/BlendTraining/

    Everybody links to it (this article and many others) without realizing that that page is part of an abandoned project. Just scroll to the bottom to see the “coming ‘soon’ [where soon is a euphamism for never]” section.

  6. Jim Stevens says:

    This is good information. After trying Blend and even Visual Studio early on I just found it easier to code the XAML by hand — like many people did, yet I always had this nagging suspicion I was giving something up by not using Blend. I’ll give it another look.

    Thanks especially for the warning about WP7 development.

    By the way, that On-Ramp is the bridge to nowhere. It is a work in progress that got abandoned somewhere along the line. They just completely bailed on the 5th day of the series. It is marked “coming soon”.

    Regarding that word “soon”, as Inigo Montoya would say: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” [1]

    — Footnotes —

    [1] The Princess Bride, a movie with Rodents of Unusual Size that appeared in 1987

  7. dbarselow says:

    I have visited ( http://www.microsoft.com/expression/resources/BlendTraining/ ) the 5 day learning series (5 day on ramp) mentioned here) and the learning videos happen to be very unstable.And ihave seen other complaints of the same manner is this being looked into can I look forward to being able to view these videos in the future. I have broadband 1 gig of ram I would imagine this should be sufficient setup for viewing.

  8. : Be sure to take a look at Michael Sorens’ excellent introduction to Sketchflow for developers: http://bit.ly/4sktechFl.

  9. @issochicago
    Reported to the team, thanks.

  10. issochicago says:


    This issue is specifically with the first 5 videos in the series for Day-1. Rest of them play well but has a very poor quality even if you do fullscreen.


  11. Joel Cochran says:

    @Chris Moore
    When Blend first came out I was upset that it was a separate tool, I didn’t understand why they didn’t just build it in to Visual Studio in the first place. As a WinForms developer I was used to having all the tooling, so I felt more than a little betrayed. This was before I got a handle on a couple of things.

    First was Microsoft’s belief that in the new world of XAML and Vectors developers wouldn’t be creating the UI. While I disagree with this concept, as does almost every developer I’ve discussed it with, I understand that IF this were the case then VS would not be the place to put these tools.

    Second, and this one is key, and I DO agree, is that the task of visually designing Vector Driven UI is beyond the scope of Visual Studio. In my opinion, the proof of this is in the pudding: Blend is a serious piece of software with a non-trivial degree of complexity. To put that in VS just doesn’t make sense: the two tools have different intents. In fact, they have tried to add many of the “Blend-ish” tools to VS2010, so you can compare the two side by side. Doing so quickly proves that Blend as a separate tool is a superior solution.

    So I will briefly mimic what Jesse is saying and what I have been speaking about for the last two years: if you are going to be a serious WPF or Silverlight developer, there is no question that Blend should be a go to tool in your arsenal. Yes, you CAN develop without it, but why would you want to?

  12. issochicago says:

    None of the videos from Blend tutorials play. They all load but does nothing. All other videos from ASP.NET site or channel9 works fine. What could be the reason?

  13. Pingback: Windows Client Developer Roundup for 6/14/2010 - Pete Brown's 10rem.net

  14. Chris Moore says:

    “Okay, tough love: if you are serious about Silverlight development, the days of using one Integrated Development Environment for all you work are

    • @Chris Moore
      Absolutely essential? No. I agree. Nor is Visual Studio for that matter; after all you can write all your Xaml in Notepad. But if your LOB application has either animation or custom templates then using Visual Studio rather than Blend is, in my opinion very much like using Notepad rather than VS to write the logic — possible but not efficient.

      Nor, frankly, do I see this as a problem. It is not required that VS be able to do everything. It doesn’t handle, for example, encoding videos with markers, and some LOB applications may well depend on such functionality. For that matter, you can’t use VS to create the images for your application, and I wouldn’t think of creating an LOB application without an enterprise level database tool.

      The “need” for SQL Server, Expression Encoder or Blend when creating a serious professional application in no way diminishes Visual Studio from being the world’s best IDE.

  15. Bj says:

    Off-topic rant and unrelated to the post, sort of: What amazes me the most is that Blend does not seem to be available for purchase on its own but only as part of the whole Expression Studio. As a developer I couldn

  16. @jatin mehta
    Should be all fixed now- it was an errant exclusion in .htaccess.

  17. shaggygi says:

    I understand this blog was written to make aware of Blend goodness, but I have to add my rant about new Studio 4 release here. Hopefully, this will get the word out and maybe get some support to rally Microsoft to change the tragic decision that was made….

    Include SketchFlow in Expression Studio 4 Premium version. I ( and appears I’m not the only one ) do not understand why Microsoft did not add this feature with Premium. The least you could have done was made it aware of the versioning before this late in the game. Come on guys! Show the love for such a great tool.

    Sorry for the rant. I do agree with Liberty about needing Blend for WPF and Silverlight… A Must:)

  18. jatin mehta says:

    link to your entries from the msdn page are throwing errors:

    From the msdn home page at http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/default.aspx
    when we click on your link
    it throws the following error
    You don’t have permission to access /index.php on this server.


    Apache/2.0.54 Server at jesseliberty.com Port 80

    It was happening with the earlier link(Windows Phone 7: Lists, Page Animation and oData) on Friday also….your links at http://jesseliberty work fine..only the links under Community activity Featured bloggers at msdn home page are broken

  19. Matt Ruwe says:

    @Kevin – Thank you for pointing me in the right direction. I was using the search to look for the word “Blend” and the only thing that came up was Expression 1 and Expression 2. That’s what I get for being lazy. =)

  20. Keith Reichert says:


    There appears to be a problem with the link to this article on the MSDN page. I get a 403 Forbidden error when clicking it.

    Good article. Blend is the only way I will create templates.


  21. Joel Cochran says:

    If MS is serious about Silverlight adoption, then they need to be more serious about Blend adoption, and in my opinion they aren’t making the right choices in that effort at the moment.

    Developers: I could not/would not develop WPF or Silverlight without Blend and I feel sorry for fellow devs who don’t get the opportunity to use it. I couldn’t agree more with what is being said here, and I’ve been saying it for a while myself: if YOU are going to be serious about either WPF or Silverlight development, then you MUST learn Blend.

    Jesse, I have to say: THANK YOU! I’ve been waiting for someone from Microsoft to say this for the past two years…

  22. Matt – It’s available for MSDN Premium or higher. You should have it under Designer Tools.

    On the same note though, having Blend available only to Premium or higher is highly limiting to its adoption. Many development shops might not have the resources to pay for the higher level of MSDN for all of its developers.

    If I have access to Visual Studio, then I should also have access to Blend (not the whole Expression suite, but just Blend).

    A good friend of mine is a huge advocate of Blend, and talks about this issue here: http://www.developingfor.net/expression/expression-studio-4-released.html

  23. Matt Ruwe says:

    Hi Jesse,

    Thanks for the info. Do you know what level (if any) of MSDN subscription you need to download blend 4? I have the ultimate level, but I don’t see it.


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