Microsoft Seeks Partners for Push into Design Tools

Microsoft says its foray into the design space with its Expression family of products is a perfect opportunity for ISV and service partners to help the software giant gain a foothold in a new arena.

As Microsoft enters into a new arena with its Expression family of design tools, the software giant is looking for partners to help spread the word and get customers ready to adopt the new technology.

At its WPC (Worldwide Partner Conference) in Boston from July 11-13, Microsoft called on partners to support its effort to get a piece of the design tools space via the companys upcoming family of Expression design tools that will complement the Microsoft Visual Studio developer tool set.

John Byrum, product manager for the Microsoft Expression tools, presented Microsofts perspective in a session titled "Building the next generation of Web 2.0 and Windows applications with Microsoft Expression," at the Microsoft WPC on July 13.

"Microsoft is going into a new area, and we need partners who can help us…" Byrum said.

Byrum identified four primary partner opportunities around the Microsoft Expression tool set: competitive differentiation, tools and controls, training and toolsets. Controls are reusable software components that enable some sort of functionality or behavior in applications.

Microsofts move into the design arena is driven by the companys goal to help enhance the "user experience" or "UX" of applications that designers and developers can collaboratively build using Microsofts current and upcoming tools.

"We have platforms for working with the richer and richest environments," Byrum said, referring to Microsofts "Atlas" AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) tool and WPF/E (Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, formerly known by the code name "Jolt" inside Microsoft), and the .Net Framework 3.0 (formerly known as WinFX).

The .Net Framework 3.0 consists of four main pillars: Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF, also known as Avalon), Windows WF (Workflow Foundation), CardSpace (formerly known as InfoCard), and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF, also known as Indigo), Byrum said.

WPF is the key pillar supporting the Expression family of products.

WPF is a unified content and application model that enables better designer and developer collaboration, he said.

Moreover, Microsoft is working on the premise that designers care about the emotional connection an application provides to users, while application developers are more concerned with the functional capabilities of an application--and typically lack the technologies required to do proper design work, Byrum said.

To this mix, Microsoft adds the XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), which "is an XML way of marking up how a UI (user interface) element will look."

The Expression family of tools consists of Expression Graphic Designer (formerly known as Acrylic), a professional illustration, painting and graphic design tool; Expression Interactive Designer (formerly known as Sparkle), a design tool for creating rich user interfaces for desktop and Web applications; and Expression Web Designer (formerly known as Quartz), a design tool for creating Web sites that deliver rich user experiences, Byrum said.

Microsoft has released June CTPs (Community Technology Previews) for Atlas, Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer.

And some of the slides that were part of Byrums presentation at his Microsoft WPC session said that the Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer will be available in "FY08," or Microsofts fiscal year 2008.

Those same slides said Expression Web Designer would be available in 2006, or "at the end of this calendar year," as Byrum said.

However, when asked by an attendee what partners should use for graphic design and interactive design until 2008, Byrum would only respond that "the availability for these products has not yet been established."

Subsequently, a Microsoft spokesperson reiterated: "There are no official ship dates established for either Expression Graphic Designer or Expression Interactive Designer."

Meanwhile, regarding the partner opportunities around the Expression and Microsoft design tools, Byrum said partners can offer customers competitive differentiation by helping them to "bring design in earlier [in the development cycle] and create better applications," Byrum said.

In the area of tools and controls, Expression Web Designer has an extensibility model, "so partners can create plug-ins and WPF tools," Byrum said.

Microsoft also will be looking to its partners to create ASP.Net and Atlas controls, Expression controls and XAML exporters, he said.

Indeed, Infragistics, East Windsor, N.J., is making WPF versions of some of its more popular controls, Byrum said.

And Infragistics is managing an Early Adopter Program for Windows Presentation Controls.

Meanwhile, Electric Rain, Boulder, Colo., is preparing to release a tool called ZAM 3D, a 3D modeling and animation product aimed at developers and designers using Microsoft WPF to build new applications for the upcoming Windows Vista operating system.

Electric Rain officials said ZAM 3D exports 3D models and scenes into the XAML format, which seamlessly integrates with Expression Interactive Designer.

In addition, Microsoft going into the new area of design tools means "We need companies who can help us with training and CPLS [Microsoft Certified Partners for Learning Solutions] stuff like courseware," Byrum said.

Moreover, Byrum said for Microsoft partners who are currently selling Macromedia Dreamweaver (now owned by Adobe Systems), Microsoft FrontPage 2003, "which is end-of-lifing," or Microsoft Visual Studio, "you can cross-sell these Expression products."

/zimages/6/28571.gifTo read more about Microsoft looking to partners in its efforts to promote Visual Studio, click here.

Indeed, Byrum noted that "if youre selling Dreamweaver today, these [Microsoft] tools absolutely compete head-to-head" with the Adobe designer tools.

Asked what Microsoft Expression Graphic Designer is best compared to, Byrum said: "If you had to compare it, I would say its like [Adobe] Illustrator and PhotoShop combined."

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