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Visual Studio 11 Express and Expression Blend for HTML for Windows 8 ‘Developer Preview’ Unveiled

At the Anaheim, California, BUILD conference, Steven Sinofsky unveiled Visual Studio 11 Express for Windows 8 “Developer Preview”. Whether your skills center around HTML and JavaScript or around C#, Visual Basic, or C++, Windows 8 and Visual Studio 11 represent exciting opportunities.

“One of the most notable advances in these Windows and Visual Studio releases is the ability to create consumer-focused, Windows Metro style apps using HTML. Visual Studio 11 provides end-to-end support for these efforts, spanning the development, debugging, and deployment lifecycle.”

Investments developers have made in learning XAML move forward to Windows 8, where Metro style apps can be written using XAML along with C#, Visual Basic, and C++. Windows 8 also supports running existing XAML-based applications with the Windows desktop, and such applications further benefit from underlying feature and performance improvements made in these releases.

To complement this code-centric perspective, with Expression Blend 5 Developer Preview, Microsoft also introduced a unique new visual authoring tool for designing Metro style apps using HTML. Expression Blend for HTML, which is focused on app design, not on Web sites, with an unmatched ability to work on AJAX-style, JavaScript-centric UI.

Blend for HTML provides a rich toolset for authoring HTML and CSS-based user experiences, helping you to create, layout, and style visually on a high-fidelity design surface. In particular, Blend for HTML makes working with CSS a lot more enjoyable: you can focus on concepts rather than on syntax, and you get immediate visual feedback on anything you do.

Expression Blend and Visual Studio share the same project files, and they can be used simultaneously by a single person or across a team of people with specialized skills.

Here are a few highlights of the first preview of Blend for HTML:

  • A powerful visual CSS editing environment, with predictable and efficient CSS and HTML5 markup generation. CSS3 adds a range of new layout techniques that are much more appropriate for resizable, dynamic application scenarios. Blend for HTML provides a rich visual environment for the new CSS Grid and Flexbox layout modules.
  • Accurate rendering on the design surface, using the same rendering engine that is employed by the app at run time. Just as importantly, Blend can display and edit UI and content dynamically generated by JavaScript code. Because dynamically generated or modified content usually plays a central role in client-side HTML apps, traditional HTML authoring tools that only look at HTML and CSS markup cannot adequately render and edit such UI. Expression Blend, in contrast, runs the JavaScript code of your app right on the design surface, so that layout, controls, dynamic content, and other code-dependent parts of your app appear just as you intended. This gives visual authoring in Blend a lot more reach than in other visual tools. What you see really is what you get, even if it’s dynamically generated.
  • Styling of complex dynamic application states. Interactive apps invariably have complex states that modify the user interface of the app (a simple example would be a dynamically generated fly-out triggered by an event handler). Such states usually cannot be expressed in static markup, making them inaccessible to most visual authoring tools. Blend for HTML solves this problem with Interactive Mode, enabling users to interact with the app on the design surface, and freeze any state reached for subsequent editing.
  • Visual editing for Windows 8-specific features such as controls and views. Most notably, Blend for HTML lets you preview and edit in full, portrait, fill, and snap views, making it easy to design user interfaces that shine regardless of how and where they’re presented.

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