Silverlight, for real this time

Microsoft's RIA framework offers client-side programming with .Net languages and tools, plus high performance

Development and design

I tried Silverlight 2 development using Visual Studio 2008 SP1 and Expression Blend 2 SP1. I didn't have any trouble picking it up and developing with it, but I was already familiar with Visual Studio, C#, the .Net Framework, and XAML. Other programmers with backgrounds in .Net languages (now quite a large selection, including IronPython and IronRuby in addition to C#, Visual Basic .Net, JavaScript, and so on) and with XML-based markup (including MXML and even HTML) should find it easy to learn and develop for Silverlight.

The basic method for programming XAML elements is to give them a x:Name tag, for example:

Once the x:Name attribute has been set, the program can manipulate the properties of the element, very much in the same spirit as JavaScript manipulating HTML elements in DHTML:

message1.Text = "Hello, " + name1.Text;

This connection between program and XAML element by name is the key to using teams of programmers and designers to develop Silverlight and WPF applications. As long as the names don't change, the programmers can modify the code-behind files, and the designers can modify the XAML files without breaking the interface between the two. They might not even use the same tools.

As a programmer who also does a little design, I was disappointed to find that I could not drag controls onto the graphical pane in the Visual Studio XAML designer; that pane is only a preview, so I could drag controls only into the XAML text. On the other hand, XAML editing in Visual Studio is supported nicely by IntelliSense, and the instant-preview pane does help quite a bit when you're trying to get the appearance of a page just right.

Expression Blend provides a graphical design surface for XAML pages, but it doesn't offer much in the way of programming support. It would certainly be the Silverlight tool of choice for most designers. In an ideal world, I might wish for a unified tool that serves the needs of programmers and designers alike, but Visual Studio and Expression Blend integrate well enough, and they are probably better suited for their target audiences than a unified tool would be.

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Martin Heller

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