Indeed, designers said the increasing competition between Microsoft and Adobe is likely to lead to better technology and better values for designers.
Microsoft has been touting its Expression Studio suite of tools for designers at the companys MIX 07 conference here this week. And designers weighed in on how they see the market changing.
"It feels a little clunky when Microsoft tries to reach out to designers," said Lee Brimelow, a designer at Frog Design Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif. "Its a little odd at first, but I really feel like theyre putting out some powerful tools."
"Theyre definitely battling with Adobe directly," said Mark Ligameri, executive creative director at Frog Design. "But being the center of that battle is fun."
Brimelow said Microsoft is only following its heritage. He said the companys tit-for-tat attitude of announcing new functionality, products, pricing or gadgets to beat back a competitor "is what Microsoft and other tools companies did for developers for years, now theyre doing it for designers."
That is nothing but beneficial for the users, he said. Meanwhile, Nick Petterssen, a product designer at Electric Rain, in Boulder, Colo., said the best part about the competition is "were all going to win. Were going to benefit from the competition—its a great time to be an application developer."
Ligameri said at first, many designers were skeptical about even trying the Microsoft tools because "people felt that in order to use any of them youd have to use all of the Microsoft products. But weve been able to use both."
However, Brimelow said he knows "a certain segment of designers who, no matter what Microsoft comes out with, theyll use Adobe for visual design."
But Brimelow is more pragmatic. "Its really about using whatever tool is going to get the job done faster and better," he said. "Some use Macs and Adobe tools and the thought of using Microsoft is difficult for them—the move to Microsoft and the Windows system is a nightmare for them."
But the battle rages on. Last week Adobe announced its plans to open-source its Flex Web development framework. Many saw the move as aimed straight at Microsoft.
"Itll allow people to build developer tools for Flex, but I dont see it as tremendously important as far as Microsoft goes," Ligameri said.
In addition, the fact that Microsoft has developed an export plug-in for Adobe Illustrator to provide a way to be able to export files indicates "they realize they have a huge way to go," Ligameri said. "Microsoft is this big aircraft carrier, but theyre able to turn it when they need to," said Mike Soucie, CEO of Electric Rain.
"I was impressed by the amount of integration across all of the tools," Soucie said of Microsofts suite. "Adobes reacting to Microsoft. I think its a reactionary move—Microsoft is going to be a huge competitive threat. Theyre already beginning to infiltrate the agencies. Adobe owns design, but they dont have the rich development environment."
So designers get to pick and choose.
"Its not about A or B, were moving up to this technology salad—you can pick and choose what you want. It can be a lot of different pieces coming together," Petterssen said. "I see room for Microsoft and Adobe. Not only that, it doesnt matter to the user in the end."
Meanwhile, the designers remarked on how much Microsofts technology had improved since its early prototypes. S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsofts developer division, said the early versions of Microsoft Expression Blend, formerly known as Sparkle, were more developer-focused and designers pushed back on the look and feel of the products. But after a few CTP (Community Technology Preview) releases, the product began to improve. Designers agreed.
"It was one of the most painful experiences we had ever bought into," Petterssen said of his groups try-out of the early Blend releases. "But we had seen their story and we had faith that the toolset would evolve," he added.
"Blend was horrible," Brimelow said. "Coming from a Flash perspective, it was terrible. But how far that tools come in a year is incredible. Its rock solid."
However, "its not a designer tool, but its not a developer tool either; its geared for that interactive design person. Blend is set up perfectly for that."
Moreover, "Microsoft needs to address these people—design technologists," he said. "Pure designers are a very hard group to understand."
Joked Ligameri: "The only people more jaded than developers are designers."