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Microsoft's New Web Developer Suite

Microsoft has a history of entering markets that it has previously overlooked. Its entry into the Web publishing market is no exception.

But after years of minimal effort with FrontPage, Microsoft  is making another move with an entire suite around its Expression technology for both Web and application development.

The company will release Expression Studio, a Web development suite consisting of Expression Web, which will replace the out-of-date FrontPage; Expression Blend (code-named Interactive Designer) for designing Web-based interfaces; and Expression Design (code-named Graphic Designer) for designing visual elements for Web and Windows applications.

The two new parts of the suite are Expression Media, a digital asset management tool geared toward managing metadata and XML tags, and Expression Media Encoder. This tool will encode video for use by a new library, making them playable in any Internet device, whether desktop or mobile.

The new library is WPF/E, or Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere. WPF/E is a "lite" version of the WPF library found in the .Net Foundation 3.0 and is meant for running on smaller footprint devices.

Blend is in beta, Design is in community technology preview (CTP) state, which means pre-beta, WPF/E is entering CTP today and Media isn't even available for CTP. However, the whole thing will be ready by the second quarter of 2007, according to Brad Becker, senior product manager for Expression at Microsoft.

"Now we have the ability to blend the best of the Web, its design qualities and user focus with the power of the desktop. That's what our tools are enabling," said Becker.

With Expression Studio, Microsoft is aiming for three development markets: the standards-based Web, which is what Expression Web is for; the richer Web experience, which WPF/E will deliver; and the "ultimate experience," which uses .Net, the full WPF library, ClearType fonts, anti-aliasing and the GPU.

The latter will be for installed applications, working in tandem with Visual Studio 2005. Instead of using the forms builder in Visual Studio, designers can use Expression Studio to design a rich interface, and developers can build the computational back end in Visual Studio.

Expression Designer is used for building scalable vector graphics for use in these applications, either Web apps or desktop apps. Blend then takes the graphics to build an interface. Developers then build connections between the interface designed in Blend and their application in Visual Studio.

David Smith, vice president and Gartner Fellow, said there is a "hidden war" between Microsoft and Adobe  that's about to get a lot more attention. "It doesn't get a lot of press or attention but it's going to be one of the next really big things," he said.

Smith called the Expression Studio a "solid offering" that will boost its presence among Web developers. "For Windows and Windows Live, they obviously feel this is something critical to the success of those platforms. Any time Microsoft isn't getting the hearts and minds of developers, no matter what kinds of developers they are, they think it's a shortcoming, and that opens up a competitive hole."

Expression Web is available for an estimated retail price of $299. FrontPage users may qualify for a $99 upgrade. Expression Blend will be available for $499 when it ships, while Expression Media will cost $299 when it's available. The full Expression Studio will sell for $599.