I installed the January CTP of Sparkle (also known by the more boring name Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer) today and I must say I’m really thrilled.
I really like this separation of the responsibilities of a designer and a developer or as Brad Becker puts it – Sculptor and Stonemason. I’ve had WinFx for a while now and I was getting tired of the avalon's declarative markup (XAML). It’s so verbose that hand-scripting XAML becomes such a pain. Same problem with Atlas’ XML-script. I decided sometime back that I won’t write more markup till Cider or Sparkle comes out. And both did one after the other. While both the designers generate XAML the target audiences are different. Sparkle is for the sculptors and Cider for the stonemasons. While Cider just feels like a necessary piece that’s finally fallen into place (Cider is a designer that just plugs into VS), Sparkle really captures your imagination. They’ve ensured that this world, while related to the developer’s, has a signature of its own. Starting from the look and feel of the UI – I honestly cant decide if it looks like a polished version of Swing or Apple’s graphite but it definitely doesn’t look Visual Studioish – to how even the color coding for the C# files are different. I really like the borders around the highlight for the selected text. The performance was pretty decent although my mouse pointer was flickering a little too much but that’s probably because of a known issue with old video drivers.
When it comes to functionality the Flickr demo is a good show-off point but I was more impressed by one of the tutorials that came with the install. The tutorial started with a simple inventory app with a very plain vanilla UI (and I mean vanilla – it was just white all over) that the developer has written with VS. After about ten minutes of following instructions from the tutorial and feeling around like a complete noob (yes its not all utopian – there is a learning curve involved). I had a very good looking UI replete with reflected surfaces and an apple-like dock and since it uses MSBuild, I can just open this project in VS and then Cider takes over. I just attained integration nirvana!