Services & Software

Microsoft offers early peek at designer tools

As it pushes into graphics market, Microsoft releases a pre-beta version of Sparkle, now called Expression Interactive Designer.

Microsoft on Tuesday released early versions of a new line of tools meant to lure illustrators and designers closer to Redmond's world.

The software giant made public its trial editions, called community technology previews (CTP), of Expression Interactive Designer and Expression Graphic Designer--two products from a new line of software aimed at graphics designers and illustrators.

Formerly code-named Sparkle, Expression Interactive Designer is for building the user interface and layout of Web or Windows applications. The CTP is its first public release and Microsoft engineers have not settled on all the features, said Forrest Key, group product manager in Microsoft's developer tools division.

"The CTP of Expression Interactive Designer is more akin to an alpha than beta in that it's not feature-complete; it's very much still being developed. We're looking for broader feedback," Key said.

Expression Graphic Designer, formerly code-named Acrylic, is meant to be used by illustrators to create images, such as logos, for Web and Windows applications. The company introduced its first prerelease of Express Graphic Designer in June.

The Expression line, which includes a third product for Web design, is the centerpiece of Microsoft's strategy to garner more revenue from graphics and design customers typically served by companies such as Adobe Systems, Corel and Quark. Until now, Microsoft has built tools for software developers, rather than front-end designers.

Microsoft is seeking to simplify the coordination between software developers who write code and the graphics art people who create the visual elements of a graphical user interface, or GUI.

Expression Interactive Designer is a visual tool for designing the look of an application. But it generates code in the Microsoft-specific XAML language that works with the presentation system in Windows.

Having the application design spelled out in XAML code makes it easier for a programmer to build other portions of the application, such as links to back-end systems, Key said.

The company is hosting a new conference, called Mix 06, in March that is .

At Mix 06, Key said, Microsoft will offer attendees the latest "builds" of its Expression tools.