Expression Session07: Chicago

This week I traveled to Chicago to hear Microsoft design experts talk about Microsoft’s new set of tools called collectively Expression Studio.

Products include:

  • Expression Design
  • Expression Blend
  • Expression Web
  • Expression Media

 

For the first time in many years it looks like Microsoft looks like with this new product line the company has realized the importance “design” plays in the development process. The new tools give designers and programmers the ability to create and enhance the user experience, allowing designers and programmers to work in a more tightly integrated manner while giving ultimate flexibility in the process.

 

Expression Design

This product has been enhanced with a new user interface that makes it very easy to use. It features both bitmap image and vector support and can export imagery to Microsoft’s XML-Based  XAML language. Expression wasn’t originally an in-house product but was originally done by a company called Creature House. The product has been refocused with a new UI and new feature set that really compliments the design “process” and still offers much flexibility. Adobe if you are reading, look out, I don’t think after seeing this I will be using Illustrator much (or even Photoshop), because this really rocks.

Expression Blend (Formerly Interactive Designer)

This program also has had an extreme makeover and features an interface that is refocused on the process. This product lets you take art and other assets (video audio) and design user interaction. You can create timelines, add buttons, click events and all the stuff you’d do with an authoring tool. While this product isn’t quite Like Adobe flash, it does let you design and author full applications for the web or as a stand alone windows program. It’s animation and media support is only rivaled by Adobe’s Flash, and while it’s not a direct competitor for Flash, it’s got my vote for creating applications with an enhanced user experience.

Expression Media

While I haven’t had much experience with this product yet, it’s purpose is media asset cataloging and administration. It seems like a very fine product. When I first saw it I wondered if it was actually Apple’s iPhoto.

 

One Ring to Rule Them All

One of the nice perks for coming to the rollout was that they are mailing us a copy of the entire studio product. Considering the cost savings, I just want to tip my hat to Microsoft and say thank you.

The event was well planned and orchestrated. Microsoft brought in many experts and well known folks in for their presentations. One of the highlights for me was a roundtable discussion on the business value of design, with people from Thirteen23.com and IdentityMine.. They talked about the value these products give and how they influence the process. It was also nice to meet the “GodFather of CSS” who was out talking about Microsoft’s new commitment to web standards with it’s new Expression Web tool. Again Adobe, watchout this product is gonna steal marketshare from your Dreamweaver product.

This conference really marked a drastic direction change for Microsoft and really underscored the change in how they view design at the company. I am very pleased with the new products and direction.

 

WA-POOF-EE (or how not to say “W-P-F /E”)

ExpressionSession afforded us the opportunity to meet a bunch of the Microsoft folks and got a talk about WPF applications versus WPF/E. Basically a WPF app can run locally or online and can be stand alone or browser-hosted.

WPFE is their cross platform solution. While at the moment it doesn’t support 3D graphics, most everything else including video is supported in terms of UI and XAML. The language it works in isn’t C# or VB.net, it’s Javascript and the exciting part is you can mix it with just about any other internet technology. Also, you can view WPF/E applications on other browsers including Apple’s Safari Browser for OS/X.

All in a Golden Afternoon..

The afternoon breakout sessions were great. I attended the one on creating a WPF application. It delved into an app from a snowboarding company and how they added 3d and support for a GPS right to an application, including 3d modeling of a ski mountain and a snowboarder’s path. Though the conference was aimed at Designers, the demo was just technical enough to be understandable, quite perfect mix of coding and design.

The next presentation I attended was about making the business case for using these new technologies. It ended up being a roundtable discussion on both making the case and pitfalls and highpoints of the whole process and how to best integrate design into the mix. The guys from Thirteen23 Design made some very effective points about the design process and how to best integrate into the process.

After that I saw a presentation by “the God Father of CSS” who spent time talking about Microsoft’s shift to supporting web standards with all of their new products. A lot of developers and designers have had misconceptions about Microsoft’s past web products because they didn’t follow “new” standards for markup. Microsoft took a long time between web browser and web markup products until they were unified with the industry before updating. Now we have some very unified standards and products that work with them finally.

Expression Web

What can I say about it I love it, in fact I love the entire Expression product line. When I told folks I was going to the conference, people told me oh I am waiting until it shows up on my regular “MSDN” shipment. Well honestly Microsoft considers this a “Design Tool” as as far as I know not shipping this as a “programming tool”. It’s a new market for Microsoft and they are doing a “studio” product much in competition with other “studio” products like Adobe’s studio product. There has been criticism because MSDN subscribers feel they have a right to “EVERYTHING” because of their universal subscription. Well honestly, they still do every programming tool. The expression tools are really “DESIGN” tools.. Adobe would make you purchase them so why shouldn’t Microsoft. Designers are usually separate from programming staffs.

Expression Web competes well against Dreamweaver. Expression Web also has some very unique features for XML and database support and CSS. I like the feel of it and have decided to stop using Dreamweaver for projects and move to Microsoft’s standards based approach.

Reasons I am switching from Dreamweaver:

  1. The user interface doesn’t change every year (so far at least)
  2. CSS selectors are more intuitive
  3. XML data support is head over heels better
  4. I am tired of the Adobe upgrade path (yearly costs with minimal improvements).
  5. Better ASP.NET support (fully supports ASP.NET 2.0 server support, which the last 3 dreamweaver updates have failed to do).
  6. WYSIWYG margining controls that rock.
  7. Everything is standards based.
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