Packt Publishing – 5$ Skill Up Year in Review

Skill Up: Year in Review

Back in June, we asked you what tech skills you were using most and what you were hoping to learn in the coming months. Over 20,000 of you replied and helped us to produce the most informative salary and skills reports of 2015.

Almost 6 months later, we want to find out what has changed, to get your thoughts on the most important emerging tech for 2016 and to, ultimately, help you to Skill Up into a new year.

Take our quick 5 minute survey and you will receive a code for buying any eBook or video for just $5!

Let’s get started!

Blend for Visual Studio 2012 by Example Review


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.


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.

Automating Microsoft Azure with PowerShell Review


I was again asked by Packt Publishing to review one of their books, this time, it was Automating Microsoft Azure with PowerShell. It came in good time, because I am starting to use Azure more and more, and PowerShell is a timesaver – actually, it is the only way to do lots of things. I have reviewed other books on Azure, which you can find at my blog, here.

The book starts with an introductory chapter, where PowerShell and Azure are introduced, and then goes to the real thing. Not all APIs are covered, namely, Machine Learning, DocumentDB, BizTalk, Stream Analytics, etc, etc, which is not really surprising, since it seems that every month a new service pops out. The book is ~150 pages long, distributed between 10 chapters, which is perfectly acceptable for the amount of topics it covers. The target audience is clearly administrators with little knowledge of Azure.

The author is John Chapman, which can be followed at Twitter as @chapmanjw.

Chapter 1: Getting Started with Azure and PowerShell

This chapter offers an introduction to PowerShell and how to install the Azure integration, retrieve subscription files and connecting to Azure. At the end of it we see how to create a blank website using PowerShell.

Chapter 2: Managing Azure Storage with PowerShell

This one is about storage. It explains about the major storage options that Azure has to offer – Table storage, Blobs, Queues and Files. Basic operations are discussed and we are presented with an example of a backup system.

Chapter 3: Managing Azure Virtual Machines with PowerShell

Next we have a discussion of the APIs available for the management of virtual machines (VMs). We learn how to create the many kinds of VMs existing in the Azure gallery, and performing all the typical operations, including creating snapshots and managing its storage.

Chapter 4: Managing Azure SQL Databases with PowerShell

In this chapter we learn how to create SQL servers and databases, configuring access to them, executing queries and finally exporting and importing data to and from.

Chapter 5: Deploying and Managing Azure Websites

Chapter 5 is about Azure Websites, the old name for Azure Web Apps. We learn how to create websites and how to provision them. Here I got the feeling that a lot is missing.

Chapter 6: Managing Azure Virtual Networks with PowerShell

A short chapter on how to configure virtual networks. Again, a lot more could be said on this.

Chapter 7: Managing Azure Traffic Manager with PowerShell

Azure Traffic Manager is Azure’s load-balancing mechanism. It explains how to configure websites for using the different load balancing techniques and load balancing profiles.

Chapter 8: Managing Azure Cloud Services with PowerShell

Cloud Services is another way to host VMs. The chapter explains how to create and manage cloud services, roles and endpoints and how retrieve Remote Desktop connection files.

Chapter 9: Managing Azure Active Directory with PowerShell

This chapter explains the basics of the Azure Active Directory (AD), the main authoritative source of identities in an Azure virtual network. We learn how to create and configure the basic options of an AD, managing users, groups and password policies. The example at the end of the chapter is about bulk creating users in the AD.

Chapter 10: Automating Azure with PowerShell

The final chapter talks about one of the automation mechanisms in Azure. We learn how to create an automation account and how to add runbooks to it.


The book is very succinct, and some topics would require substantially more coverage. It does provide some information enough to cover the basic usage of the covered Azure services.

Packt Publishing Free Learning Library

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From 30th April, 2015 Packt Publishing has thrown open the
virtual doors of its new Free Learning Library and offering its customers a daily chance to grab a fresh free
eBook from its website. The Free Learning Library will be open all year-round but each title will only
be up for 24 hours, so make sure you keep checking back to get your hands on
the latest book! All you’ll have to do is simply click on the day’s free eBook and it will
instantly be added to your account.

See more information here:

Day Against DRM 2015 Campaign

For those who don’t know, today is the International Day Against DRM!

To celebrate that, Packt Publishing is offering all their ebooks and videos for only 10$ for the next 24 hours:

You can find more information on their site:

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So, go get them! The campaign only lasts 24 hours! Winking smile