Along with the release Dec. 4 of Expression Web, Microsoft is also releasing a beta of another component of the Expression Suite.
Called Expression Blend, the application was originally announced under the code name “Sparkle” and then was called Interactive Designer and was widely touted by some in the technology community to be a Flash-killer.
From eWEEK Labs tests of the beta of Expression Blend, while we dont think that Adobe has to worry about the imminent demise of Flash anytime soon, we did find Expression Blend to be an interesting option for letting design-oriented staff create simple applications or letting them work with Visual Studio developers to build attractive interfaces to more advanced applications.
Unlike Flash Professional, which has as many features for deep 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 Windows Presentation Foundation and its XML-based language XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language).
Currently these applications will only run on Vista and updated versions of Windows XP, though on Dec. 4 Microsoft is also releasing 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 easily move from both a design mode and a XAML code view.
However, using the timeline view often proved frustrating.
The record button for the timelines was a miniscule red dot that we 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.
The product also has good integration, as one would expect, with 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 here.