Here is a story of a great collaboration between Microsoft and the community.
Last year in August, as I was speaking at VS Live in Redmond, I was asked by my friend Clint Rutkas for coffee because he had an idea he wanted to run by me. Now if you know Clint, that is usually really intriguing and I was really excited to hear about his idea.
Clint told me about the project he was thinking of starting. This was just conceptual at the time, but his idea made a lot of sense: Why not make the process of creating a new Universal Windows application a lot easier. Why not help people with all the tedious tasks that you get right after File, New, Project.
Usually when you get started, you need to add a bunch of pages and helpers to your application. The Blank application template is just that, blank. In MVVM Light, I added a project template for the supported frameworks (Universal Windows Platform, Xamarin.iOS, Xamarin.Android, Windows Presentation Foundation, Silverlight).
However creating a meaningful project template is really difficult. You are constantly navigating between “too much content” and “too little content”. If you have too much, the developer ends up having to remove a whole lot of code, which is tedious. If you have too little, then the developer needs to spend time adding the basics, as well as sometimes having to look for guidance on how to do common things like navigation, dialogs, a Settings page, etc.
Building a wizard
Of course I thought of building a wizard to help people getting started. This is not easy though. First of all, the Visual Studio automation can be complex. You need to support multiple versions of Studio, and the extensibility model changes from version to version, so that is a big commitment. And this is where Microsoft has a huge advantage, they own the extensibility model, they know in advance is something is going to change, and they have the resource to create and maintain the code. And since the WTS is open source and available on Github, you can also contribute, and help make this project even better.
Installing the Windows Template Studio
Before you get started, you will need to add the Windows Template Studio (WTS) to Visual Studio 2017. Thankfully this is really very easy. In Visual Studio 2017, just select Tools, Extensions and Updates. Click the Online item on the left, and enter Windows Template Studio in the search box on the top right.
In Visual Studio 2017, you are now required to close the application to install the extension, so after the download is complete, close Studio and it will get installed.
The WTS starts in the File, New, Project dialog. Under the usual Universal Windows templates, you will see the entry for the WTS. Select it, give a name to your new application and press OK.
The project type
The next screen is about the foundation of your app. You can select a type of navigation (currently you can select an app with a navigation pane, or an app with tabs), or simply a blank template without navigation.
Then comes the framework selection. This is where you will notice MVVM Light front and center. The other options at the moment are Code Behind, or a basic “no-name” MVVM implementation which can be useful in situations where the usage of 3rd party frameworks is completely forbidden.
The next step is probably the one I am the most excited about. It is usually so tedious to add the same pages over and over in every application I create. Here, you can choose to add pages such as blank page, map page, master/details, web view, settings etc. I can’t stress enough how much of a time saver this step is.
Note that the studio also supports you in finding out which licenses the 3rd party frameworks use. For example, if you add a Settings page which uses JSON.Net for the serialization of the settings, a link to the license is added to the Summary pane on the right, and so you don’t have any surprise.
The features dialog is as exciting. With one click, you can add new experiences to your application such as Suspend/Resume, Background tasks, notifications, live tiles and more.
This is probably the easiest way to offer a fully featured application to your users.
Why only MVVM Light at this time?
Microsoft ran numbers of the Nuget downloads and saw a confirmation that MVVM Light is the most widely used framework to build MVVM applications on Windows. In addition, its modularity and simplicity of use makes it a prime candidate for the first version of the WTS. However this is an open source project and so the developers of other projects (such as my good friends at the Prism or MVVM Cross projects) are already working to add support for their own framework in the WTS.
What about other application types?
At the moment, the WTS only works for Universal Windows applications. However nothing would prevent it to be updated for other application types. Personally I would welcome Xamarin support! And here we can predict that this will probably happen sooner or later, supported by the community of open source developers. I can see a lot of advantages in adding support for Xamarin or even WPF desktop applications. So I encourage everyone to head to Github and start contributing!
Here are some videos and links to get started:
- Announcement on the Windows blog
- Github page of the Windows Template Studio
- Installer page in the Visual Studio Gallery
I hope that you also see the potential of this great tool and that you will contribute.