Blend for Visual Studio 2012 by Example Review

Introduction

I was recently asked by Packt Publishing to review another of their books. This time it was Blend for Visual Studio 2012 by Example, a book by Abhishek Shukla (@abbeyshukla), apparently, the first book on Blend for Visual Studio, even if it still covers Visual Studio 2012, most of it will apply to 2013 as well. My interest in Blend came from the fact that I recently had to work with Silverlight, and Blend is, of course, one of the must-have tools.

This book is for beginners on Blend, and it covers a number of technologies around XAML:

  • Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF)
  • Silverlight
  • Windows Phone
  • Windows Store

Each chapter starts by explaining some concept and then goes on to a sample application that demonstrates it.

Chapter 1 – Getting Started with Blend

So, the first chapter is just an introduction on what Blend is used for, how to get it and install it, the Blend IDE, etc. We are guided through a sample (and simple) application built in Silverlight. I’d say it’s a decent start.

Chapter 2 – Layout Panels

The second chapter talks about one of the fundamental building blocks in any graphical application: the layout components. We are presented the five basic layout panels existing in WPF (Grid, Canvas, Stack Panel, Wrap Panel and Dock Panel) and given one example of its usage (except Wrap Panel and Dock Panel). Others, like Border, Popup, Scroll Viewer, Uniform Grid and View Box are also just succinctly described.

Chapter 3 – Working with XAML

This one is about the Extensible Markup Language (XAML), the glue that brings together WPF, Silverlight, Windows Phone and Windows Store apps. We are taught about namespaces and custom registrations, the XAML syntax, and how XAML relates to C#. We also learn about styles, a very important concept.

Chapter 4 – Styles and Templates

In this chapter, we have more styles and also templates and resources, three concepts closely intermingled. We learn about the several levels on which resources can be declared and the difference between static and dynamic resource references. Then, style definitions, targeting and inheritance and how to use resource dictionaries to skin our applications. Templates come next, in its two major flavors (control and data). We see how we can edit the templates of existing controls

Chapter 5 – Behaviors and States in Blend

This time its all about adding interactivity to applications, through behaviors and visual states. We learn about Blend’s own behavior library, that can be used for both WPF and Silverlight, and get to create a sample animation. Next come visual states, the default XAML mechanism that is supported natively by both Silverlight and XAML, and we also learn how to do a similar animation effect.

Chapter 6 – Understanding Animation and Storyboards

In chapter 6 we go more deeply into animations using the IDE’s powerful storyboard tools. We learn how to record, edit and play an animation built exclusively using these tools and how it gets translated to XAML.

Chapter 7 – Understanding Databinding

Another of the major concepts in XAML is databinding, the subject for this next chapter. We are taught about dependency and attached properties, databinding modes and directions, how to load data from either XML files or our own classes and to bind it to controls. One thing that I think should be here is value converters.

Chapter 8 – Vector Graphics

This chapter talks about the graphic shapes of XAML. We learn how to import existing vector files into XAML and how to create custom shapes.

Chapter 9 – User Controls and Custom Controls

Another hot topic is reusable controls, of the two basic types: user controls and custom controls. We learn about the difference between the two, what they are used for, and create one sample of each.

Chapter 10 – Creating Windows Phone Apps

This chapter is totally dedicated to building Windows Phone 8 apps. It explains the different types of projects, device sizes and resolutions and introduces the Windows Phone Emulator. Then it talks about the requirements that need to be met in order to submit an app to the Windows Store, and how can we test its compliance. Note that only the user interface is covered, not more advanced features of Windows Phone, like sensors, etc.

Chapter 11 – Creating Windows 8 Store Apps

The final chapter is about building Windows Store Apps. We learn about the different kinds of apps available, how to certify and submit our app to the store.

Conclusion

Like I said, it is a book for beginners, without any knowledge of XAML, and from this perspective, I think it does a decent job. It wouldn’t be possible to cover everything , but some important topics received a fair treatment.

Published by

Ricardo Peres

Team Leader at Dixons Carphone. Microsoft MVP.

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