Expression Studio 2 Is a Small Boost for Microsoft Web Developers

Click here to see screenshotsExpression Studio is Microsoft's competitor to Adobe's Creative Suite, but in terms of features, functionality and maturity of tool sets, there's really no competition: Adobe trounces the Microsoft design and Web development suite across the board. But just because Microsoft Expression Studio can't currently take down the reigning of king of design and Web development suites doesn't mean it's without merit. While I've found some of the tools in Expression Studio to be very basic and lacking in advanced functionality, I've also found some very well-implemented tools for building rich Web sites and applications. And with the recent release of Expression Studio 2, Microsoft has slowly but steadily improved the core tools of its suite. These tools are Expression Web 2, designed for the authoring and editing of Web sites and a direct competitor of Adobe Dreamweaver; Expression Blend 2, a development tool for creating Web animations and rich Internet applications including those based on Silverlight 1.0; Expression Design 2, a graphics and image design tool; Expression Media 2, a simple but well-designed personal digital asset management tool; and Expression Encoder 2, a newcomer to the suite used for encoding media files for use in Web sites and rich Internet applications.

Click here to see screenshots
Microsoft Expression Studio

Expression Studio is Microsoft's competitor to Adobe's Creative Suite, but in terms of features, functionality and maturity of tool sets, there's really no competition: Adobe trounces the Microsoft design and Web development suite across the board. But just because Microsoft Expression Studio can't currently take down the reigning of king of design and Web development suites doesn't mean it's without merit. While I've found some of the tools in Expression Studio to be very basic and lacking in advanced functionality, I've also found some very well-implemented tools for building rich Web sites and applications. And with the recent release of Expression Studio 2, Microsoft has slowly but steadily improved the core tools of its suite. These tools are Expression Web 2, designed for the authoring and editing of Web sites and a direct competitor of Adobe Dreamweaver; Expression Blend 2, a development tool for creating Web animations and rich Internet applications including those based on Silverlight 1.0; Expression Design 2, a graphics and image design tool; Expression Media 2, a simple but well-designed personal digital asset management tool; and Expression Encoder 2, a newcomer to the suite used for encoding media files for use in Web sites and rich Internet applications. All of the products in the suite have improved Silverlight support along with better integration among the suite components. Expression Studio 2 is priced at $699 ($349 upgrade) and all of the components can also be purchased individually. Expression Blend 2 is arguably the only must-have component of the Expression Studio. When it comes to creating Silverlight and Microsoft WPF rich Internet applications, Blend is the only option for users who want to create animations or simple applications and who would find using Visual Studio too complex. However, while there are some nice features in Blend 2, there is a big weakness in this version, namely that it doesn't currently support creating Silverlight 2 applications. Adding to this problem is the fact that there is a very capable preview version of Blend 2.5 available that does work with Silverlight 2. It is currently unclear what the upgrade options for Expression Studio 2 users will be once Blend 2.5 is released. All that said, there are some solid new features in Blend 2. These include the ability to convert XAML graphics into controls for WPF applications and also an improved interface that lets developers view both a code and design view. While I liked this option, it was a little confusing since it was on the right-hand side of the screen rather than on the bottom as is the case with Expression Web 2. This will easily prove confusing for users who bounce between the two applications (which will probably be the case with most suite owners). Expression Web 2 is definitely the most mature and capable of the tools in the Expression Studio, providing good Web development capabilities including some nice touches not found in Dreamweaver, such as an excellent CSS style browser. Among the new features in Expression Web 2 is the ability to directly edit and preview PHP-based sites within Expression Web. It is also possible now to directly import design content in the Adobe Photoshop format and in Flash. Site publishing options include most of the basics, including WebDAV and FTP. However, the FTP publishing still lacks the ability to connect to sites using Secure FTP, which will rule out Expression Web 2 as an option for many site developers. The biggest new feature in Expression Design 2 is its new support for slices, which will prove especially helpful for those who build Web site prototypes. I found Expression Media 2 to be a very nice personal image management tool but it lacks the collaborative features found in Adobe's similar Bridge application. Encoder 2 is what the name implies, a tool for encoding and converting video and media files. Unlike more basic encoders it does provide features for carrying out basic edits and clipping within media files. Trial versions of Expression Studio 2 can be downloaded here.