Microsoft's new Expression lineup includes four applications: Web for building Web sites, Media for organizing images and other digital media, Design for drawing vector graphics, and Blend for building rich media applications. This new package encroaches upon imaging and coding territory long served by Adobe as well as competitors such as Corel.
Most of the Expression programs require that you run at least Windows XP SP2 or Windows Server 2003 SP1 or newer, or the new Windows Vista. Make sure to check the ReadMe section of Microsoft's Web site before installation. You may have to install Microsoft .NET Framework 2.0 (or 3.0 for Expression Design) and uninstall any beta versions of Microsoft Office 2007. A trial download of Expression Web, a final product, is available at
Once it's running, Expression Web offers a variety of templates--not as many as Dreamweaver CS3 offers, but enough to get started with a basic personal or small business Web site. You also can import a site you already have via FrontPage extensions, FTP, HTTP, WebDAV, or files on your hard drive.
Because Web resembles Dreamweaver, its multiple panes and views of nested folders appear less friendly for Web design newbies than its predecessor, FrontPage. However, this is a plus for professional coders who live and breathe Cascading Style Sheets and XML. (Microsoft still offers simple online tools for Web design newbies, such as templates that accompany a free domain name through Office Live.)
You can view the code, design, or both at once while docking Task Panes on the left-hand side of the interface. Tabs along the top organize open HTML pages. If you're an experienced coder, it's easy to drag and drop code elements onto the page in Expression Web. Plus, clicking on an element in the code view will highlight its corresponding content in the design view.
Expression Media is an updated and repackaged version of iView MediaPro, which Microsoft bought last year. Similar to Apple Aperture and Adobe Lightroom, this Digital Asset Management application helps you manage catalogs, or libraries, of work. Media can wrangle files in more than 100 formats, such as RAW files. It also steps you through publishing content as a photo gallery or movie. Unlike other Expression apps, Media works with Macs as well as PCs. During our tests of the beta 2 version, Media still hadn't adopted the look and feel common to the other three Expression applications. Still, we found Media easy to figure out from the get-go. Although Media offers fewer features than Lightroom, the beta was intuitive in our tests, with drag-and-drop features and self-explanatory bulk tagging.
Expression Design graphics software performs pixel and vector image editing, a lightweight mix of features offered by Adobe competitors Photoshop and Illustrator. For instance, with Design you can add Live Effects to an image without making a permanent change, similar to the new nondestructive Smart Layers in Photoshop CS3. We easily adjusted to the interface, which once again strongly resembles Adobe software.
We haven't yet tested Expression Blend, which uses XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) coding to build interactive Windows apps with Internet tie-ins. For instance, you could use Blend to design a desktop widget integrating maps, videos, and animation from the Web.
Microsoft's attempts to win over designers and coders with Expression could be an uphill struggle, largely because most digital creatives already have their favorite tools picked out, such as those offered by the Adobe creative suites. Expression's substantial prices are unlikely to reel in bargain hunters who might otherwise check out Corel software; nor will these Windows-only tools convert happy Mac users. Still, Expression remains less expensive than most of the Adobe CS3 packages. Based upon our early look, the tools within Expression Studio appear well built and are likely to attract coders and designers loyal to the most recent Microsoft Windows operating systems.
|Price||Upgrade price||What it is|
|$599||$349 for those with Blend, Web, Media, Visual Studio or MSDN||Suite of four design applications|
|$299||$99 from FrontPage||Web site design, FrontPage replacement|
Expression Design beta 2
|$499||n/a||Creates widgets and other Web-connected applications|
|$299||Free for users of iView MediaPro 3||Digital asset management; catalogs media files|