• Price: 255 . 359

  • Company: Microsoft

  • Pros: Support for Silverlight 1.0; storyboard and animation enhancements; split view and XAML editor improvements; font embedding; Visual Studio integration.

  • Cons: Silverlight 1.0 projects can’t access a lot of the new features; Windows only; new .NET 3D objects not fully implemented.

  • Our Rating: We rate this 6 out of 10 We rate this 6 out of 10

Microsoft’s Blend is the heart of Expression Studio, the company’s suite of tools that allow designers to create rich Internet applications and user interfaces with Microsoft.NET technologies. These technologies – Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML) and Silverlight – are all part of the same code base that underpins Windows Vista.

Blend is evidence that WPF is an effective tool for developing applications on Windows, as it itself was created using the language. However, as WPF is not supported on Mac OS X, neither is Blend. So right from the off, Microsoft has a difficulty in attracting Mac-based creatives to the application suite.

To remedy this, when you buy Blend as part of the Expression Studio Professional Subscription (which costs around £515), you’ll receive a full copy of Parallels desktop for Mac in the box, along with Office, Windows XP and Vista.

With Blend 2, you either develop for WPF-based desktop applications (or controls for those applications) or Silverlight 1.0 Web content. There are some restrictions on what can be output in each format, which in turn decides which assets and menu choices are available.

The basic premise of Blend is that you design applications and interfaces visually, drawing shapes, paths, and controls on the central artboard, and then modifying their appearance and behaviour using the properties panel and interaction panel respectively. You can import images, video, and sound (or assets from Expression Design and Encoder), then create storyboards that animate the visual or audio elements of your design.

Taking things further, you can set trigger events to run those storyboards when users interact with your application. As one of the new features in version 2, Blend can now embed fonts in a project, to make sure that the font that you select for your application is the font that users will see when they run your application. If the user doesn’t have your chosen font, a default system font will appear.