Microsoft Takes Web Development Leap

Review: Microsoft's Expression Web-which rivals leader Dreamweaver on many levels-could be a more significant release than even Vista and Office 2007.

In the wake of the massive releases of Microsoft Windows Vista and Office 2007, it will be easy for people to overlook the release of a Microsoft product with an unfamiliar name. But in the modern world, where Web applications and service-oriented architectures are becoming as important—or even more important—than desktop-based products, the release of Microsofts Expression Web could prove to be as significant as that of its more widely heralded siblings.

In its most basic form, Expression Web is the successor to Microsofts FrontPage Web authoring application. However, eWEEK Labs tests show that Expression Web is much more than that: While we always looked at FrontPage as a fairly basic Web editing tool that fell short when it came to serious Web development, Expression Web has taken a big leap in functionality and capability—to the point where it is a serious competitor to the leader in Web authoring, Adobes Dreamweaver.

/zimages/2/28571.gifFor more Microsofts release of Expression Web, click here.

Expression Web, which made its debut Dec. 4, also marks the first release of a product from Microsofts broader Expression Suite, which is designed to be a direct competitor to Adobes Creative Suite by offering alternatives to Adobes graphics editing and Flash application development tools. (Expression Suite is due to ship in 2007.)

Given the results of our tests of Expression Web, the suite is off to a good start: Expression Web is a serious development tool, but it offers easy usability and learning aids that will help novice Web designers.

Some of Expression Webs features are even better than those in rivals such as Dreamweaver, including the best CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) browsing tools that weve seen in a Web editing tool. The CSS tools, for example, made it very simple to browse through our styles and actually see what each style looked like before applying it.


Still, while Expression Web is a big step up for Microsoft when it comes to Web authoring, overall it isnt quite up to the level of Dreamweaver, which we believe is a better option for experienced Web developers. For one thing, Expression Web lacks a few features, such as support for Secure FTP, that are must-haves for serious Web development. Also, being a Microsoft product, Expression Web doesnt play well with non-Microsoft development languages, such as PHP and JSP, and it runs only on Windows XP with Service Pack 2 and Vista.

Still, Expression Web includes a good set of templates and wizards to help users create new sites, and it is effective at importing existing sites.

The main interface will look very familiar to anyone who has been using Dreamweaver, with a similar layout of screens, property dialogs, and component and file libraries. Like most Web development products, Expression Web also provides a pure code view, a WYSIWYG view and view split between the two.

/zimages/2/28571.gifIs Expression Web Dreamweavers worst nightmare? Click here to read more.

We found the WYSIWYG view to be especially useful. The view made it easy to edit content and to drag and drop components—such as list boxes, buttons and calendars—into a Web page. Along with standard JavaScript components, Expression Web comes with a good set of drag-and-drop ASP.Net 2.0 components.

Indeed, Expression Webs ASP.Net 2.0 integration allowed us to create a site from scratch using the Microsoft technology and easily launch into an ASP.Net editor. Any business serious about ASP.Net will probably want to do most work in Microsoft Visual Studio, but Expression Webs integrated ASP.Net 2.0 features are a good complement to Visual Studio and make it easy for Web developers to stick their toes into the ASP.Net development waters.

The code view had all the standard features we would expect, such as automatic code options and the ability to save code for reuse later.

Expression Web, like most good Web development tools, includes the ability to link into data sources. We especially liked the ability to use an XML file as a database, which was very useful for quick application testing.

Reporting options with Expression Web were generally decent, if not awe-inspiring. We found most of what we needed to test the code of our sites, and we liked the visual hyperlink view of Web sites. Expression Web also can optimize HTML code when it is published to the live site.

Microsoft Expression Web is priced at $299, with $99 upgrades available for some FrontPage users.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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