It’s been a busy spring. After a lot of “yard work”, we are shipping an updated version of all the visual authoring tools for Metro-style apps: Expression Blend with support for both HTML and XAML authoring, and the visual designer in Visual Studio 2012, based on Blend.
As in previous releases, there is no more need to download Blend separately – it is now part of every VS download that targets any of the supported platforms, including Express for Windows 8, which is free, as well as Professional, and Ultimate.
Or in other words, if you have Visual Studio 2012, you have Blend.
In this post, I’ll give you a quick summary of what we have done since the Consumer Preview release. For a complete list, see the description of all changes in our post The Nitty Gritty: Detailed List of what’s new in Blend for VS 2012 RC.
Performance and Stability
As we are nearing release, we have put strong focus on stability and performance.
In the Consumer Preview, the XAML designers in Blend and VS had some specific stability issues. We have made a lot of progress with these, and we hope you will find this release very significantly more robust.
We also have improved performance: loading documents, art board manipulation, styling and template editing should all show big gains. XAML compile is now twice as fast when building incrementally, and significantly faster even for a full build.
On the HTML side, we have done a lot of work on the performance of the CSS property inspector and associated element selection, resulting in smoother workflow.
Beyond performance and stability, a few late-coming additions have made their way into Blend and VS.
New in XAML
There are several additions and simplifications to the project templates. These are used in both VS and Blend when you create new projects or new project items.
The new templates help you build apps that don’t have amnesia. Pages now can save and load session state when the app is suspended or resumed.
There is also support for virtualization, improved navigation with keyboard and mouse, as well as entrance animations for pages except for the blank template.
In both VS and Blend you can now use the Device panel (which was called the Platform panel in the last preview) to select and edit the view states for the different Windows application view states (such as FullScreenLandscape, FullScreenPortrait, Filled, Snapped, and so on).
In addition, Blend’s Visual State editor now lets you use and preview theme animations as part of your visual states. Theme animations are animation presets that are used throughout the Metro UI, and you can use them within your applications for a consistent look.
New in HTML
If you are working on Metro-style apps in HTML, the RC brings a number of really useful improvements.
Let’s talk about the styling workflow first. The most important addition is in the CSS property inspector.
After watching users work with the Winning Rule mode of the property inspector (which shows, as the name suggests, all properties that win throughout the cascade for the selected element, regardless which rule they are defined in), we realized we needed to make it easier to identify the rule a given winning property is defined in. The CSS property inspector can now display the properties in Winning Rule mode categorized by source rule, which makes it obvious at one glance where a value is defined.
We also added the ability to edit CSS3 gradients with a rich visual gradient editor, and Blend now has a visual editor for CSS 2D transforms.
When you enter CSS selectors in the Styles panel, you now get IntelliSense. This makes it easier to enter complex selectors.
To round out styling, we added a host of productivity commands. You can now add and remove classes right from a selected element’s context menu (and automatically create a rule in the process). In the same way, you can create style rules from class or ID. Most importantly, you can now cut, copy, and paste CSS properties and rules from the CSS property inspector and the Styles panel.
Right clicking on the list of applied styles lets you cut or copy the properties of entire rules right from the applied styles list, which is a very quick way to refactor properties from inline to other rules.
Last but not least, we greatly improved workflow with data binding: Blend will require a reload of the design surface in many fewer cases, which makes data template editing a lot more fun.
The RC release of the visual authoring tools for Metro style apps includes many performance and stability improvements. But beyond that, you will find a lot of exciting new productivity features that will make your work more efficient and more fun. This document contains a summary of the most important changes. We also have a full list of changes and additions that you can find in our Nitty Gritty: Details post.
As always, we are looking forward to hearing from you. Please let us know what you think of the RC!
Christian Schormann, Director, PM for Blend