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.”
Microsoft vs. Adobe
The new Expression Studio also features support for the .Net Framework 3.5, Smith said.
Smith said the new release helps to close the gap between Microsoft, which is an upstart in the design tools space, and Adobe Systems, which has a large head start in the arena with a series of popular design tools.
“In order for us to close the gap, we need to show value in the tools,” Smith said. “We need to go out and show that we’re committed to this space, but also push the envelope. Our commitment is being demonstrated by releasing a new version 12 months after the last one. And this shows we’re able to listen to the market and shift our corporate strategy where necessary and do what we think is right for our customers and our tools.”
Moreover, Smith said he believes Microsoft has an overall better story than Adobe when it comes to designer and developer workflow.
“Visual Studio 2008 is the latest and greatest in tooling, and we have Silverlight support with our add-in there,” Smith said. “This continues on our theme of ‘better together,'” he said referring to Microsoft’s strategy of having its own products work efficiently together. “You can also see the designer as a role in the Visual Studio Team System developer scheme. We are adding more synergies between our designer tooling and our developer tooling.”
In addition, through contributions and products from its partner ecosystem, Smith said Microsoft could actually “pull ahead as an overall solution for developers and designers.”
Smith said the Expression Professional Subscription is like “an MSDN [Microsoft Developer Network] for designers.” The subscription will be integrated into a Microsoft Expression community site that Microsoft recently launched. “It’s all about bringing communities of developers together,” Smith said.