Building a Perfect WPF Developer Workstation

Building a Perfect WPF Developer Workstation

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OK, so you've just decided that WPF is the strategic technology of choice for your next-generation application, and you've taken the opportunity to flatten and reinstall your developer workstation. What should you put on it to create the perfect WPF development environment? There are so many good tools, utilities and samples out there, that I thought I'd put together a little checklist that will hopefully help folk out. I'd love to hear your suggestions for anything that I've missed: I'll try to keep this updated over time.

Base Environment

Tools and Utilities

  • XamlPadX, Kaxaml and XamlCruncher: three enhanced alternatives to the XamlPad tool that ships in the SDK. Each have their strengths: XamlPadX has some nice add-ons and is based on the XamlPad codebase, Kaxaml is great for demos and has good tab / indent support and XamlCruncher has high-quality source code available.
  • Lutz Roeder's .NET Reflector: handy for browsing through class hierarchies;
  • Snoop: Peter Blois' tool for visually debugging WPF applications;
  • WPF Performance Tools: buried in the SDK but an essential part of the toolset for an application in the stabilization stages. Youll find it as %SdkTools%\WpfPerf.exe (make sure you run it as an administrator if you're using Windows Vista);
  • Flexible Application Template: this replacement project template from one of the app services PMs allows you to create a single application project that can flip between an XBAP (web browser project) or rich client application just with an adjustment to the project type;
  • ZAM 3D: Electric Rain's utility for quickly creating and animating 3D meshes.
  • XAML Converters: Utilities for converting 3DS, DXF, Blender, Fireworks, Lightwave, SWF, Maya and Illustrator files to XAML format.

Building a Code Toolbox

  • 3D Tools for WPF: interactive 2D on 3D surfaces, wireframe lines, 3D mouse navigation;
  • Kevin's Bag-o-Tricks: a collection of controls that extend and enhance the intrinsic types ColorPicker, FolderPicker, NumericUpDown, RadioButtonList, date controls, animating tile panel and graph controls;
  • UI Automation Stress: stress testing for your application environment. (Add this code into a debug menu to make sure that you can't crash your application with spurious input.)

Sample Applications

I'm the kind of developer who likes lots of sample code available to me for copying concepts, ideas and techniques. Copy these to a \samples directory for quick access:

Also unpack %SdkTools%\..\Samples\ to a \samples\sdk directory so you can easily browse through all the samples without needing to go through the SDK documentation interface.

Now enable Windows Desktop Search (install WDS 3.0 here if you're running Windows XP) and configure it to index file contents of .xaml, .cs, .vb files as a bare minimum. Make sure it's set to index the entire \samples directory that you put the above samples into. Now you can quickly pull up every sample that shows the usage of (say) BitmapSource and ColorConvertedBitmap just by hitting Win+F and searching for those keywords.


  • The WPF MSDN Forum is frequented by both the product team and many other knowledgeable community members, and contains a great archive of questions previously asked (and answered);
  • The WPF MSDN Newsgroup provides a very similar service to the web forum but in the form of a USENET newsgroup. At the time of writing, the forum seems to have significantly more traffic, however.

Tips and Tricks

  • Make sure that you integrate the Windows SDK documentation with the rest of the MSDN documentation on your system: run Start -> Windows SDK -> Visual Studio Registration -> Integrate Windows SDK with Visual Studio 2005 as an administrator for easy F1 integration from the code view.
  • I make liberal use of pinned shortcuts on my Start menu to make it easier to access some of these tools, particularly XamlPad, WpfPerf and other tools that are really hidden by default. If you're running Windows Vista, this tip will give you a quick shortcut to each of these items also.
  • Set the Windows Presentation Foundation Font Cache system service to Automatic (Delayed Start) if you are running Windows Vista, to reduce initial start-up time for WPF applications.
  • In Visual Studio, set the default font to Consolas - it's easier on the eyes than Courier New and was designed with code development in mind. Consolas is included with Windows Vista or Office 2007, or you can download it here.
  • From the Windows SDK documentation, the "New in Windows Vista" index filter is a great way to ensure that you don't get the WPF and Windows Forms APIs accidentally mixed up: I've come across a few developers who had accidentally started using types from both libraries together simply because they hadn't spotted the very subtle clues in the documentation that differentiate them.
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  • Wonderful list of tools needed for any WPF developer.  Although, I'd suggest other fonts as well - I find that switching between proggy square, inconsolata, consolas, etc.. gives me a little "boost" every time I switch.

    And, since you have the words "developer workstation" right in the description (and correct I may add), any chance of nudging the MSDN bean counters and saying "hey, Blend is indeed a developer tool"?  Not having it included in MSDN is really, really frustrating to us that already accepted a nice big slap already with the different editions.  If so, thanks!

  • Chk out the application called snoop. This has helped me to find where some of the events are driven. I am not sure where this came from. I got it from my fellow worker and it has helped me a lot. I will post a comment tomorrow after I find where this can be downloaded from.


  • very useful!

    One question, how do you actually "set the Windows Presentation Foundation Font Cache system service to Automatic (Delayed Start) " ?

    Is this a registry key or a build switch ins VS?

  • Μια που όλο και περισσότερος κόσμος αρχίζει να παίζει μαζί του ... προτάσεις από τον ειδικό για το πως...

  • Per chi vuole iniziare a lavorare con WPF e si sta chidendo: cosa serve a Visual Studio 2005? Dove posso

  • Add IronPython to that list.  Much faster for "playing around" with WPF constructs than going through the code-compile-repeat process of using VB or C#.  This is great for learning, as well as for just trying something out quickly to see how it would work.  Then you can code it for real in your language of choice (C# of course).

  • Check ou xamlpadX - updated version of xamlpad (

  • Ramanujam, thanks for reminding me about Snoop - added!

  • A very good read...

  • Why Expressions? If you're going to have Visual Studio 2005, it's the same functionality.

  • XamlpadX is a must.. beats xamlpad any day

  • Please, for the love of all things holy, add a testing framework to that box...  Generations of maintenance coders hence will thank you...

  • Tim this is great.  Here is an email I send to any of the developers I work with when they ask about WPF:


    My Five Day Course For Hitting the WPF Curve/Cliff

      This was put together by Karsten Januszewski, a WPF evangelist over at Microsoft.  The first day is really for everyone.  There’s really some good content in this post.

    Building a perfect WPF Developer Workstation

      One of the hurdles many people run into is just getting their development system up and running. Tim Sneath (our initial MSFT contact on WPF) put together a set of “perfect” items needed for a new Dev Workstation.

    Optimizing WPF Application Performance

        It gives a bunch of do’s and don’t regarding performance.  We joked that it’s kind of like the WPF bible of explaining what NOT to do.

    Hope that helps some!


  • you can get the consolas font with a special download at microsoft for visual studio 2005 too!

    i'm sorry i haven't got it at hand but you can find it easily in the ms download center.

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