Silverlight 2 Visual Studio Tools Somewhat Limited

I’ve been following Silverlight since it was called WPF/E, before this blog started.

My main point is that unless you are happy to shell out for Expression Blend and learn a whole new tool, or you love experimenting with raw XML (albeit with some intellisense), you may become frustrated with the currently available Visual Studio offering for designing Silverlight 2 application. 

The Silverlight website page on getting started currently points to a download for Microsoft Silverlight Tools for Visual Studio 2008 SP1 (RC1) – yes, that’s a Release Candidate.  Update: The Tools are now RTW, but the design surface is read-only.

What you get is a split XAML/Design view.  You can edit the XAML or drag toolbox items onto the XAML, but you cannot manipulate the Design area, it is a preview area only and you have to frequently refresh it manually – i.e. it’s not a Design surface.  This is in contrast to the WPF application experience which is.

What is needed for a proper design surface, if you are willing to invest in learning a separate tool, is Microsoft Blend 2 plus SP1 which is US$499 (and included with an MSDN Premium subscription).  Many people from Microsoft (including the SVP for the developer division) have pointed out that you can download a 60-day trial for free.

Note also that Expression Studio 2 (which includes Blend) is now included in the software benefits for Certified and Gold Partners – see Brian Saab’s comment on Soma’s (MS DevDiv SVP) blog – which is great news/value for partners.

I’m quite happy playing with XML and learning Blend, and many other eager adopters may not have an issue either, but I believe these tool limitations could serve as quite a deterrent to some developers.

Perhaps the RTM version of the tools with have a proper design surface…?

Even if that is the case, Microsoft has spent a LOT of time talking about the fact that they now support Designers and Developers with a common project format and dedicated tools, however there isn’t a very solid and low-cost story for the huge number of small or single-man shops where most developers are also the designers.  I may write more about this situation in the future including the significant cost to get the whole experience…

Perhaps PDC will reveal something.

Update: at PDC 2008 they announced that Visual Studio 2010 will have the full design surface experience.  A long time to wait unless you are happy using the CTPs/Betas.  A toolkit of CTP/Beta-quality controls for Silverlight 2 was also released.

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