Microsoft Tweaks Expression Studio

Microsoft is still an upstart in the design tools space, but is working to catch up to Adobe Systems' head start.

LAS VEGAS-As part of a host of announcements at its MIX conference here, Microsoft will announce the release of a beta of Expression Studio 2.

Expression Studio is Microsoft's designer tools suite, which consists of Microsoft Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design, Expression Media and Expression Encoder. Expression Studio is designed to work seamlessly with Microsoft's Visual Studio, enabling designers and developers to collaborate on the creation of better user experiences.

Key new features of Expression Studio 2 include PHP support in Expression Web and support for Silverlight in Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Media Encoder and Expression Design.

Meanwhile, to enable designers to start immediately exploring the power of Silverlight 2, Microsoft also announced the availability of Expression Blend 2.5 March 2008 Preview, which takes advantage of capabilities in Silverlight 2.

Microsoft also introduced the Expression Professional Subscription, which includes the full suite along with a number of other programs. Developers can download Expression Studio here.

Keith Smith, director of product management for the design tools team at Microsoft, said a year ago the company set the pace for an annual release of the suite, and the beta of Expression Studio 2 sets the pace for a release to manufacturing of the product in the first half of 2008. The beta released at MIX is the first preview of the new Expression Studio technology.

Closing on Adobe

Expression Studio 2 will feature support for Silverlight 1.0, which Microsoft introduced last September. Yet, the Expression Blend 2.5 March 2008 Preview will support Silverlight 2. Other Expression components will follow with Silverlight 2 support at a later time, Smith said.

As for the move to support PHP with the Expression tools, "Microsoft has recognized how important it is to integrate Windows and LAMP [Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP/Python/Perl]," Smith said.

Microsoft support for PHP is nothing new, as the company has had a longstanding relationship with Zend Technologies to support PHP. However, here with Expression, the PHP support is a nod to its importance to Web designers. "A lot of designers cut their teeth on PHP," Smith said. "And we have a better chance of getting folks to look at and consider ASP.Net if we have support for PHP."