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December 4, 2006

Microsoft releases Vista design tools

After roughly a year of community previews, Microsoft Corp has announced that it is starting to release the web designer tools that will be at the heart of Vista's Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF).

By CBR Staff Writer

It will include a product family branded Expression Studio that will comprise several components that could be purchased separately or as a suite. Some of the products are coming out now, while others will roll out during the first half of next year.

With one exception, they are the result of technologies made available through community technology previews over the past year, that have been downloaded nearly a half million times. So there’s little mystery about what Microsoft is announcing now.

The best-known piece of Expression Studio will be Expression Web, formerly code-named Quartz, which has been in beta for the past three months.

Intended as the successor to Microsoft’s FrontPage web page layout tool, Expression Web will improve on the formerly spotty support by Microsoft of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), a W3C standard. It includes a WYSIWYG layout palette, plus improved code generation and Section 508 (part of a US act mandating accessibility) a.k.a Sparkle Interactive Designer, is the visual interface tool. This is where you create user interfaces with animations, 3D, graphics, and video.

Then there’s a third piece covering graphic asset management that wasn’t originally part of the Microsoft Expressions bundle. Originating from the acquisition of iView Multimedia last June, it provides the ability to store and catalog access graphic presentation assets, supporting over a hundred media formats. The new piece, to be called Expression Media, will support online and offline browsing of graphical asset catalogs.

All of the pieces of Expression Studio will be available a la carte or as a suite, but they are not all generally released yet. Expression Web, which is the furthest along, is available now for $299 new, or as a $99 upgrade for FrontPage users.

Expression Blend, being released as a beta 1 version this week, will eventually retail for $499. As for Expression Media, it’s not available in its final branded form. But for now Microsoft is continuing to sell iView MediaPro, the original iMedia product a la carte for $299. By mid 2007, it and Expression Blend will become generally available as part of the Expression family and suite. And Microsoft will price the whole shebang at $599.

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They’re trying to get designers and developers to work in roughly the same universe of tools, said Andrew Burst, CTO for twentysix New York, a Microsoft partner.

There’s a good reason to get them on, literally, the same page, said Brust, who recounted a job where a colleague designed a web page using Adobe tools. He gave us bitmaps and we went nuts trying to embed and getting transparent colors to soak through the right way.

In fact, Microsoft isn’t alone in trying to develop common toolsets for web designers and developers. Adobe, with its Flex framework and tooling centered on the Flash rich media plug in, is going the same direction.

The challenge, said Brust, is that Microsoft is a challenger in a market dominated by Adobe authoring tools on Mac platforms.

Accompanying the Expression announcements, Microsoft is making the first community technology preview of Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPF/E). WPF/E is a cross-platform browser plug-in for delivering rich media, animation and video content based on Windows Media, that, by the way, could display watered down artifacts from the Expressions palette on Macs.

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