Buying themes for WPF applications

February 19, 2008

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.