Learning Expression Blend – Finally!

I have been developing Windows Phone apps for a while but like most developers, I had a bit of an block towards tools that require fiddling around buttons to change the UI. Windows Phone is all about XAML + C#. I know C# pretty well but XAML has always been a bit of mystery to me. I used to see UI built using XAML and would go WOW! but when I would look at the actual XAML code, I would give up the ghost – hint, XAML code is quite complicated. I have always known that Blend for Visual Studio exists to develop Windows Phone + Windows 8 apps exists, but I never understood it well enough to use it effectively.

Well, happy to say, finally, after attending a Windows 8 app building workshop in C#, I grit my teeth and decided to learn Blend, once and for all. To this effect, I researched books on Amazon and got the Pro Expression Blend 4 book by Andrew Troelsen.  After I got the book, I sat down on Friday night and started reading. The book is about 350 pages, so it is not too bad. The fact that it is pretty easy going i.e. mostly filled with screenshots makes it go even faster. Suffice to say, by the end of day Saturday, I was jumping up and down and running every 10 minutes to my wife telling her, Oh, did you know, Expression Blend can do X? Then I got busy with work and finally, today I got the time to finish one of the last chapters that I wanted to read very desperately (Chapter 5 – Styles, Templates and UserControls.) I can finally say with confidence that I understand what Blend is all about. I finally understand how powerful it is and what a dummy I have been trying to put learning this tool off. This chapter (chapter 5) is about 2/3rd of the way in, at about page 200, so all I had to read was about 200 pages.

Did I mention, I had to read just 200 pages? Woohoo! That is about the limit of a book I want to read contiguously. More than that and I will treat a book like a reference – looking at only a section here and a section there. This book passes the litmus test of being about 200 pages just like Javascript, the Good parts by Douglas Crockford.

After reading this book I realized that as a developer, not knowing Blend when developing C# apps for Windows Phone or Windows 8 is like having one of your arms tied behind your back while you code. Really, just like the author claimed in the introduction, all the C# code in the entire book is probably under 100 lines. Seriously, I had no idea you could do so much UI fluff + ton of event handling using nothing but just Blend (actually XAML, but whatever.)

If you have been turned off by Blend, well I can recommend this book without any hesitation. There might be other books better than this one, but this one is pretty damn good. The steps are very explicit, very clear with screenshots on where a certain menu is located or what the output should look like. And, the book does not just take one example and keep building on it  like many technical books do. Rather, each sample is in a different project, so if you get stuck in one project, you can start afresh in another. This is brilliant and just the way I like. I suspect, this is going to be on my desk, instead of shelf for quick lookup and re-read for a while.

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