Microsoft Expression Studio

Microsoft Expression Studio
  • Expert Rating

    3.50 / 5

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.

Would you buy this?

Microsoft Expression Blend

Microsoft Expression Blend is a little hard to describe. It's a design tool for creating XAML application interfaces, mainly for programs that run on .Net 3.0 and the WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation). It's been superficially compared to Microsoft's take on Adobe Flash, but we're not sure that's a precise comparison.

Microsoft's stated goal with Microsoft Expression Blend is to allow users to create application front ends that are slick and powerful in a way that Microsoft's programming tools really haven't allowed until now, and in that respect Blend is probably the most genuinely adventurous of the Expression products.

If you're not a programmer, or not intending to write programs that use Microsoft's Silverlight/.Net/XAML/WPF axis of technologies, Microsoft Expression Blend is not likely to be of much use to you. If you are interested in building such things, though, it's certainly worth a look.

When you fire up Microsoft Expression Blend, you're greeted with a workspace that does seem to owe a couple of debts to Flash: among the panels that are available are event timelines, for creating behaviours that can be hitched to actions such as clicking an object. You can easily switch between Blend's graphical design view and editing the underlying XAML code, if you want to dig into the guts of the project you're working on and make changes by hand.

Integrating existing .Net code into a Microsoft Expression Blend project isn't terribly tough, and Blend supports either C# or Visual Basic on a per-project basis. Blend also comes with a slew of vector design tools that hearken directly back to Design (and to other vector drawing programs before it), and it loads not only XAML objects but, interestingly enough, Wavefront 3D objects and textures as well.

The projects you create in Microsoft Expression Blend can run as stand-alones or can be further expanded on in a programming environment such as Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 -- especially useful if you're writing a lot of back-end code that needs to be debugged in detail, separately. Programmers who are already familiar with the .Net "code-behind" philosophy that separates the program logic from its visualisation should be able to pick up Blend pretty quickly.

If you're curious about what's possible with Microsoft Expression Blend more or less out of the box, check out the sample projects bundled with the program: a primitive animation studio, a 3D object demo, a "virtual photobook" (complete with turnable pages), a video shelf (like the photobook, but with video), and a playable grand piano. Obviously they're highly simplified examples, but can be taken apart as an example of how to build applications in Microsoft Expression Blend.

Again, it's hard to avoid comparisons with Adobe Flash: Microsoft Expression Blend-created applications can run in Web browsers as part of a site (for instance, as an interface for a site that is too complex for mere AJAX) or as stand-alone desktop applications. Still, we don't expect the full potential of Blend apps and the Silverlight platform to really become clear until people actually start building things with it. For our part, most of our programming experience with .Net is with applications for the Web, but Blend is the kind of thing that could get us back into creating desktop apps.

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