On Dec. 4, Microsoft released Expression Web, a robust Web design tool and part of the Expression Suite. Also released at that time was a beta of Expression Blend, an application originally announced under the code name Sparkle and later called Interactive Designer. Whatever the moniker, the app was touted by some in the technology community to be a Flash killer.
From eWeek Labs tests of the beta of Expression Blend, we dont think that Adobe Systems has to worry about the demise of Flash any time soon. That said, we did find Expression Blend to be an interesting option for letting design-oriented staff create simple applications or allowing them to work with Visual Studio developers to build attractive interfaces to more advanced applications.
Unlike Flash Professional, which has as many features for full-on developers as it does for interface designers, Expression Blend is built foremost with designers in mind.
In fact, our tests of Expression Blend, with its emphasis of timelines and design tools, reminded us greatly of another touted Flash killer from years ago, Adobes former LiveMotion.
Expression Blend builds applications using the new WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) and its XML-based language, XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language). Currently, these applications will run only on Vista and updated versions of Windows XP, though on Dec. 4 Microsoft released a community preview of Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, which is designed to let a subset of WPF applications run on devices and non-Windows platforms.
In our tests of the Expression Blend beta, we found the product to be a simultaneous combination of intuitive interfaces and sometimes maddening design choices.
Getting up and running with an application was very simple, and we could move easily from both a design mode and an XAML code view. However, the timeline view often proved frustrating. The record button for the timelines was a miniscule red dot that is easily overlooked. Also, right-mouse menu options were unavailable in many areas of the Expression Blend interface or required pinpoint accuracy on a small icon to bring up options.
Once we got around some of these beta quirks, though, we found Expression Blend to be an interesting tool for creating attractive and animated application interface layers, and data integration features let us build simple but effective stand-alone WPF applications. As one would expect, the product also has good integration with Microsoft Visual Studio, making it easy for a designer to build the top layer interface and then work with a developer for the more advanced application capabilities.
Expression Blend is slated to ship in the second quarter of 2007 and will be priced at $499. For more information, go to www.microsoft.com/expression.
Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Microsofts Windows Presentation Foundation site
Sample code and other resources www.xamldev.com
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