The traditional method for building Silverlight apps has been to use Microsoft Expression Blend for rich design of applications and Visual Studio for the development tasks.
This is probably still the best way to go, but with Expression Blend 3, which is due out in August and which I tested as a release candidate, it is possible to build entire Silverlight applications within the one development environment.
One of the more interesting new features in Expression Blend 3 is called SketchFlow, a tool for building prototypes for Silverlight applications. However, SketchFlow makes it possible to build a prototype that has more in common with a rough take on the back of a napkin than the classic software prototype.
The idea behind this, which appears to pull from the book "Sketching User Experiences" by Microsoft's Bill Buxton, is that rough sketches encourage discussion and collaboration more than clean prototypes that look like a final product.
With SketchFlow, I could build a workflow to show the application process and then build sample interfaces using drag-and-drop elements that looked like they were drawn with a pencil. I thought this worked well, though traditionalists can still build prototypes that don't look like they came from the back of a napkin.
SketchFlow could also be exported as a Web application that could be easily shared with team partners for commenting and review. With this application, team members could collaborate on a prototype by adding notes and sketching changes to the prototype.
For those who want to develop in Expression Blend or for developers who may build in Visual Studio but don't want to jump between environments to make small changes, the inclusion of a much-improved code editor in Expression Blend 3 will be very welcome.
With this code editor, along with the traditional ability to edit XAML code, it was also possible to edit C# and Visual Basic code from within Expression Blend. In addition, the editor provides the standard Microsoft IntelliSense ability to autocomplete and suggest code.
Also new in Expression Blend 3 (though already available in Adobe Creative Suite tools) is the ability to define sample data for use when building and testing data-based Silverlight applications. With this feature, I could either manually define data points or use an XML file to serve as the datasource for my application while in Expression Blend.
The Behaviors capability in Expression Blend 3 essentially makes it possible to create, use and reuse snippets of code that can be directly applied in the design environment without the need to write additional code. So, for example, a simple Play control for media could be dragged and dropped onto the design surface.
Also, taking into account the fact that a great deal of rich content comes from Adobe tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator, Expression Blend 3 can directly import the native file formats of these tools and preserve elements and layers from them.
Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]