Microsoft Expression Studio

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Microsoft Expression Studio

Pros

  • With all the tools bundled together, it's an affordable piece of software; Expression Web because it represents such a positive step forward from FrontPage; Expression Media's functions are exposed through APIs, which you can see in action through a number of included sample scripts written in Visual Basic; multilayer Photoshop images can be browsed as thumbnails but can also be browsed layer by layer when you view them directly in Media; you can try before you buy!

Cons

  • CMYK support is completely absent from Microsoft Expression Design; Expression Web is geared a little more toward professional Web developers than novices; there is no Preview tab in Expression Web

Bottom Line

One feature of the entire Microsoft Expression Studio bundle that could prove attractive to a lot of Windows users is its price. Getting all these tools for the price is pretty hard to beat, and if you need at least two of them, it's a fair bargain. If history is any guide, though, Microsoft will have a finger in the wind for how the suite can be made more of a suite, and make the next version of Expression Studio a truly remarkable piece of work.

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Microsoft's new Expression Studio suite (available online for about $1144 or $670 to upgrade from any of the Expression components to the full Studio) brings together four programs that stake out some new territories for Microsoft and strengthen the company's presence in existing ones.

Whenever Microsoft introduces a new set of products, it's worth paying close attention. Microsoft doesn't always get it right, particularly first time out -- early versions of Internet Explorer, for example, were terrible -- but over time it learns lessons that you sometimes only learn by being an underdog. And Microsoft usually stays in the game.

Microsoft Expression Web is the latest incarnation of FrontPage, an adjunct to Microsoft Office, while Expression Design, Expression Blend and Expression Media are entirely new applications. They're meant to work together as a design suite for the Internet and for desktop applications, especially as a way to support Microsoft's Silverlight technology and the .Net platform in general.

Microsoft's Silverlight is intended as a competitor to Adobe's Flash in some respects. Silverlight lets you run rich Internet applications in a browser but also includes some more advanced features such as JavaScript functionality (you can command a Silverlight app with JavaScript) and AJAX (a Silverlight app can dynamically load content from somewhere else). To that end, Expression Studio is the first iteration of a set of tools to allow people to create those apps.

Microsoft Expression Studio tools can be used on their own for other things -- if you just want to pick up Expression Web and use that to work on your existing Web site, you can do so -- but it's clear that Microsoft wants this to be the first step toward making Silverlight as common a presence on the Web as Flash itself. For now, the individual pieces are intriguing, and we'll examine each of them in turn.

First, a note about Expression Studio's availability. Right now, all four applications in the suite are available as fully functional, 60-day trial downloads -- a good way to get your hands on them before you purchase it.

The current iteration of the Microsoft Expression Studio suite contains Expression Blend 1.0 -- discussed below -- but Blend 2.0 is already in a preview (beta) form with a 180-day trial period. We feel that Microsoft Expression Blend 2.0 will be released long after both Blend 1.0 and the full Studio product are out in stores, and people who bought Blend in either form will get a free upgrade.

Also available only in its free trial form is Expression Media Encoder, which converts video into the proprietary VC-1 codec used by Silverlight.

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