Microsoft Expression Web Gives Dreamweaver A Run For Its Money

Die-hard Dreamweaver fans aren't likely to switch to Microsoft's Expression Web, but some serious coders who aren't wedded to the longtime market leader are finding a lot to like in the FrontPage replacement.
Despite the sometimes-maddening omissions in Expression Web, it's attracting a following among serious creative types who previously wouldn't be caught dead with FrontPage on their widescreen monitors.

Microsoft Expression Web Gives Dreamweaver A Run For Its Money

 Out With FrontPage, In With
     Expression Web

 Image Gallery

Brian Wood is a long-time Dreamweaver developer who is director of training at Evolve, an Adobe-authorized learning center in Seattle. With a foot in both worlds, he's also a moderator of Expression Web's online beta forum and is helping testers learn the Microsoft utility's power.

"The biggest thing going for Expression Web, honestly, are the CSS capabilities," Wood says. "The program does a great job of supporting Web standards. I can click something and see what properties apply to it and what it's inherited."

Wood acknowledges that Dreamweaver can accomplish the same things, but that doesn't dissuade him from the allure of the newer product. "Some of the task panes within Expression Web are very similar to Dreamweaver. I don't care, I love it."

As a trainer, Wood particularly likes the fact that Expression Web's design view renders HTML and XHTML code somewhat more accurately on-screen than Dreamweaver seems able to. "There's some hinky little things in there," Wood says, that make Dreamweaver's previews look slightly different from the same code viewed in a standalone browser, such as Internet Explorer or Firefox. (See Figures 5 and 6, below.)

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Figure 5. In the Split view, Expression Web does a better job than FrontPage of displaying raw code in the upper pane while rendering what users will see in the lower pane, which is customizable.

If many other Web developers get the same feeling of accomplishment from Expression Web that Wood does, Dreamweaver may get a good run for its money. As this point, it's a bit hard for Microsoft's offering to put much pressure on the champ. It's still impossible to buy the product and the current beta exhibits minor gotchas that keep anyone from broadly rolling it out.

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Figure 6. The Design view can be rendered completely free of formatting, such as paragraph marks and spaces, or the developer can turn on any or all of these.

Unlike FrontPage, Expression Web won't be included with any version of Microsoft Office, says product manager Smith. Instead, it'll be sold as a stand-alone application, along with the two other Expression products I described earlier.

The pricing for Expression Web hasn't been determined yet, Smith says. "We're expecting it to be between the $250 and $350 mark" whenever the list price is finally set, he speculated.

Like Microsoft's long-anticipated Office 2007 product, the Expression Web team has often said it will ship its code before the end of 2006. "We hope to get it out some time in December," Smith indicates.

The bottom line: Will you find yourself liking Expression Web enough to buy it? If the only HTML editor you've been using for years has been FrontPage, you'll probably want to upgrade. If you've mastered Dreamweaver well enough to run it with your eyes closed, however, Expression Web may do little to change your mind.

The current Beta 1 of Expression Web is available for download, free of charge, from Microsoft's Expression Products Home.

Microsoft Expression Web Beta 1
What it is: Microsoft's expected replacement for its FrontPage 2003 HTML editor.
What it does: Expression Web is shaping up as a good choice for developers who need modern CSS support and wish to use Microsoft's ASP.NET platform.
  • Relatively easy learning curve, especially for users experienced with FrontPage 2003.
  • Excellent integration with Microsoft Visual Studio 2005 and other ASP.NET 2.0 development environments.
  • Includes ASP.NET Development Server, which installs on a workstation, possibly eliminating the need for a dedicated Web server for initial coding and testing.
  • Cons:
  • Doesn't provide advanced support for the PHP language or JavaServer Pages.
  • Doesn't render "include" files, which control the look of individual Web pages. (Dreamweaver, by contrast, automatically renders them.)
  • Doesn't have a Mac version, as Dreamweaver does.
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    Brian Livingston is the author of 10 books on Microsoft Windows and the editor of Send story ideas to him via his contact page.