The Silverlight Toolkit

Recently I have decided to educate myself on Silverlight 2.  I did some playing during Silverlight 1, but was not all that impressed so I really put it aside.  However, I have always believed that learning a Rich Internet Application (RIA) platform like Silverlight or Flex is very important moving forward because it shores up many of the shortcomings of traditional RIA development using JavaScript, even when using frameworks like JQuery, Prototype, and others.  True RIAs are best when created using the sandbox approach of a plugin driven experience.  To that end I think Silverlight will someday surpass Flex/Flash because of the better developer experience using .NET over ActionScript, as well as other facts.

As part of my research into Silverlight I looked at what pre-existing controls sets are available for use; to that end I came across and have been experimenting with the Silverlight Toolkit.  Much like the Ajax Control Toolkit, the Silverlight Toolkit contains made to measure controls and themes that can instantly be used in your Silverlight applications to improve both the look of the application as well as the user experience.  Be careful when downloading this though, it caused me some major headaches getting the March 2009 release to work, I found it better to work with the December 2008 release.  Check your Microsoft SDKs folder in Program Files to find your files, this is the default install location for March 2009, for December 2008, you can store them wherever.

The Toolkit features controls such as AutoComplete, TreeView, DatePicker, Calendar, Pie and Bar charts (this is part of a whole data visualization package)and many others are all available.  In addition to the controls, the toolkit also contains themes which act much like skins in ASP .NET 2.0/3.5 and allow you to provide a consistent look to all the controls in your XAML file.  I enjoyed ShinyBlue and Twilight themes, as well as the Creme theme.

Finally, head over to the Microsoft Silverlight Learning Center and have Jesse Liberty talk you through using these controls.  If you get a chance I recommend checking out the DataForm video, this control will be available in Silverlight 3 and really makes my mouth water.  We use the data grid and repeater controls a lot in the applications we develop, and I cant tell you how nice it would be to replace using JavaScript for the interaction with C#.  So that makes me really excited, and combine with the Data Annotations package and you make developing data driven application in RIAs a snap.

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