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Analysis: Microsoft Previews Heavy-Duty Web Development Tools

Microsoft's Expression line is squarely aimed at Adobe. Microsoft's previous entry in the Web development tools market, FrontPage, was generally derided by professionals as a lightweight, standards-unfriendly program for novices.
Microsoft is chipping away at development of its new Expression line of software for designers, releasing two new preview versions this week of the evolving applications.

The new community technology previews (CTPs) of Expression Graphic Designer and Expression Interactive Designer follow Microsoft's release last week of the first preview version of the line's third application, Expression Web Designer.

Microsoft's Expression line is squarely aimed at Adobe. With technology like Photoshop, Illustrator, Flash and Dreamweaver, Adobe has enjoyed years of a near-monopoly hold on Web developers. Microsoft's previous entry in the Web development tools market, FrontPage, was generally derided by professionals as a lightweight, standards-unfriendly program for novices.

Expression is intended as a clean break. While still heavily aligned with Microsoft's proprietary technology stack (This week's releases require users to install Microsoft's latest WinFX release, WinFX Runtime Components Beta 2), the new line takes care to respect standards. Expression Web Designer supports XHTML, CSS and XML, among other standards.

The new CTPs of Expression Graphic Designer, an image-editing and creation application, and Interactive Designer, an application user-interface designer, feature incremental advances aimed at taking advantage of features from WinFX Beta 2. The Web Designer CTP is a relatively complete release that includes many of the software's planned features. Early feedback from users posting to Microsoft's discussion forum is that the software draws on FrontPage 2003's feel but is more elegant and intuitive.

Microsoft has not announced a road map for Expression, but company executives say they expect Web Designer to ship by the end of this year. Expression Interactive Designer and Graphic Designer are tentatively slated for a 2007 release.

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