Buying themes for WPF applications

The Web is full of comments where people generally voice the same issue with WPF. It seems that everyone and their grandmother thinks WPF is only useful for companies building apps with “differentiated user interfaces.” Ya know, Times Reader, Yahoo Messenger for Vista, etc. A common thread is that if you are building line-of-business (LOB) applications, WPF is not going to give you much over WinForms. While understandable, this opinion is simply wrong. Need proof? Check out the Lawson Smart Client app.

With that said, there is a point to take away from the general consensus. I totally agree that you are missing out on a lot of WPF’s potential if you do not have Visual Designers around to Blend up some fantastic user interfaces for you. Even if you have the budget to hire Visual Designers, it’s not exactly a simple task to find someone who has strong VD skills, as well as a firm background in software development. Those people are in high demand, and are in low supply (‘low’ compared to, say, competent WPF developers…oh wait…nevermind). ;)

What I expect to see, in abundance, is third-party and open-source visual themes that can simply be plugged into any application. Development teams will use pre-canned visual designs. There’s gold in them hills. Once a development team can purchase/download a set of styles/templates/resources to turn their drab LOB apps into something like Lawson Smart Client, WPF will be the de facto choice for LOB projects. Of course, I assume by that time design-time support for WPF will be much better and supportive of RAD. Without that, all bets are off.

These types of pre-canned themes are already available to a certain extent. The Reuxables product seems interesting. I have not used it yet, but it seems on the right track and worth trying out. Infragistics offers Theme Packs, which you can use to restyle Infragistics controls. Products like these are the future of WPF and Silverlight development, considering that most dev teams neither have access to or can find Visual Designers.

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15 Responses to Buying themes for WPF applications

  1. senkwe says:

    I’ve dabbled in WPF and see the need and importance of good visual designers with a technical bent…but how about those of us developers who can sort of see the design in our heads but just can’t create anything artistic…for example, I know what a gel button should look like…but I have no idea as to HOW to get there.

  2. Josh,

    WPF for LOB is without any doubt the best choice for new Windows Client development.

    I’m looking forward to some new products like you described, this will make it super easy for smaller shops without a VD on staff.

    Best to you,

    Karl

  3. Mike says:

    I totally agree. I’ve spent some time searching for WPF themes to buy and was really surprised to find very little. There’s a huge market for buying web templates and I expected there to be something similar for WPF. Guess designers just aren’t aware of this market opportunity or aren’t familiar to blend and VS. How to spread the word ?

    I’m currently working on a prototype to demo to the business and the audience always goes for a pretty UI. I don’t have time nor the skills (yet) to create the control templates and I really don’t want to demo a plain white WPF app. I’d happily pay for a good looking WPF theme.

  4. Can you see WPF act as a page viewer for say PDF files? I am tinkering with changing an internal tool that takes png files that I create ahead of time. I would like to work off the base PDF in the future.

    My design will have a doc viewer that has thumbnails of each page of the doc in a 1 inch panel along the base of the form. Mouse over them and they grow to 3x the size of the current image. Click on it and you get full page in primary display space above this panel.

    Sure I’d need arrows to push the viewer right and left to look at whole doc. My doc’s are in the 25 to 50 page average.

    Do you see this being capable in WPF?

    TIA

  5. Josh Smith says:

    Stephen,

    WPF does not have built-in support for PDF documents. It does, however, support XPS. Perhaps you might want to check that out instead.

    Josh

  6. Thanks Josh. I passed this up stream to my director who crashed his machine in a conversion to XPS on a few slides from PowerPoint.

    We are looking at a more flexible usage of picture files.

    Currently all of my pngs are page1.png,… page100.png

    So when I rearrange them I need to change their #/name. :(

  7. Rick Gillespie says:

    I disagree with your comment about WPF being ready for prime time in business development. Until it has at least the same support as ASP.NET development has in Visual Studio now, it will be religated to the fringe. Sure you will get a few nice applications developed just like in the early days of Java. C# and VB.NET have gained acceptance largely due to Visual Studio’s ease of development. I am looking forward to Visual Studio 2012. Maybe they will figure it out by then.

  8. Josh Smith says:

    Rick,

    I’m not sure who you’re replying to, but if it’s me, perhaps you missed this bit from the post:

    “Once a development team can purchase/download a set of styles/templates/resources to turn their drab LOB apps into something like Lawson Smart Client, WPF will be the de facto choice for LOB projects. Of course, I assume by that time design-time support for WPF will be much better and supportive of RAD. Without that, all bets are off.”

    Josh

  9. peteohanlon says:

    Josh

    Interesting post. It does raise the issue, can businesses use this as a mechanism to generate revenue from existing applications? Let me explain:

    You develop a generic data entry system in WPF. It’s plain vanilla windows. You take a look around the market and think “Hey – business B needs exactly the same application. Why don’t we just rebrand this app and, hey presto, we’ve got a new application that looks as though we created it specifically for business B.” This is a much commoner scenario than you may think.

    There is a potential that people get sold “upgrades” that are nothing more than rethemed applications, because it’s going to be so much easier for a company to make cosmetic changes than it is for them to change the behaviour of the application.

  10. Josh Smith says:

    Pete,

    You’re on to something! That makes a lot of sense. Very sneaky…

    Josh

  11. At http://www.xamltemplates.net you can see a lot of WPF (XAML) templates and you can buy them, and there is one free for download.

  12. Rob Martin says:

    Josh

    I think it’s not being adopted because.

    1. It’s hard to learn xaml.
    2. It’s hard to learn xaml.
    3. Did I mention that developers don’t have time to learn xaml! Some of us just need to produce code so that we don’t get fired. Our bosses want results. And if you work for a large corporation all they really want is the software to work. They could really care less about whether or not it’s pretty.
    4. The xaml needs to be invisible just like the forms in years past. The only reason you can see them now is Microsoft said we don’t have time to put everything in here that we need to on the front end so let’s make these guys think it’s cool to edit the xaml code directly. Yea, that’s the ticket.

    Although some of it is drag and drop it’s a far cry from being usable without editing.
    5. Don’t have a budget for a visual designer and couldn’t convince the company to hire one. I tried.
    6. Developers make sucky UI’s.
    7. It’s disconnected. You really need Visual Studio and Expression blend. That will always be a problem. Until the two are married I will hate this.
    8. It’ is most definitely not a RAD environment.
    9. Some people don’t care about pretty. They just want functional.
    10. For desktop applications it sucks. And Microsoft has forgotten the desktop developer. They are only interested in pleasing the web page developers.
    11. No grid. The free ones suck. Who…. I mean who would release a compiler without a grid. Give me a break.

    Really I could go on and on, but right now WPF sucks. It really does and I wish that all you WPF cheerleaders would put down your pom pons. Wake up from happy land and join the real world. It takes a lot of money to switch to WPF from and company point of view. And the developer has to answer the question. “And why do we need this”? Other than it being pretty and the fact that Microsoft will probably kill everything else it most honest answer I could give. I can only hope that Microsoft pulls their head out of their extremely large ass and really gives us something to work with that doesn’t require hiring a visual designer. Give me a break.

    Rob

  13. Josh Smith says:

    LOL! Whatever man. If you don’t want to use WPF, don’t use it. I don’t know why you’re so bent out of shape over it. Get a grip. :P

  14. Marlon Grech says:

    To Mr. Rob Martin,

    I was going to send you back some offensive words but I figured out that it is not worth it!

    Don’t make an idiot of yourself… just shut off that PC and go to sleep !

  15. [...] like Josh Smith I was looking around for some pre-rolled themes for WPF, and wondered why there was so little [...]

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