RealTime IT News

Microsoft Revamps Web Development Efforts

SAN FRANCISCO – Microsoft today officially launched its Silverlight 3 platform and Expression development toolkits aimed at improving the quality of Web interfaces and assisting designers with the difficult task of development.

As part of the keynote, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) announced that a release candidate of Expression 3, due to ship in 30 days, would be available for download and testing from Microsoft.

Expression is the sorely-needed update to Microsoft's old Front Page Web page development platform. When it was introduced in Office 97, Front Page was needed, because the Web was in its early days and not many people knew how to code in HTML.

But time marched on and Front Page fell way behind the state of the art in Web page design. Microsoft eventually abandoned it in favor of Expression, a more mature product with more functionality, back-end support and support for emerging Web standards like Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

There will be two flavors of the Expression line. Expression Studio 3 suite comes with Expression Blend, a tool for connecting front-end pages to .Net services, SketchFlow, which helps design interactive basic sketches of how a Silverlight application will behave, Expression Web for Web design and supporting CSS, Expression Encoder for video encoding and Expression Design for illustration and design.

Brian Saab, group product manager for the developer/UX platform and tools unit at Microsoft, figures most people whose skills were based around Front Page have moved on to Wordpress or Sharepoint or some other content management system (CMS) that allows them to quickly create Web pages.

"In most cases, I think that's the right answer for them. But in those CMSes, because they are meant to rapidly create dynamically generated Web pages, there are limitations to what you can put into the template at hand," he told InternetNews.com.

"So there are tremendous opportunities for Expression today in doing that custom development, whether modifying the templates of a custom management system or building a unique Web page from the ground up," he added.

Silverlight 3

Silverlight is one of the many technologies supported in Expression for Web page design. During a keynote speech to demonstrate the new functions, high definition video was shown with graphic overlays. Silverlight 3 will support picture in picture as well as slow motion replay.

Silverlight will be competing with Adobe's Flash and AIR platforms as well as JavaFX from Sun Microsystems. Saab sees competitive advantages for Microsoft against both products.

Windows Server, he notes, comes with the IIS Web server and content serving technologies. To run Flash, a server is needed plus Adobe's own server software, so that's two software licenses instead of one.

The out of browser support in Silverlight is also a great differentiator with Flash, Saab notes. "If you look at Adobe's platforms, it's got Flash, an amazing plug-in with great reach, and they have AIR platform for out-of-browser or client support. You literally have two platforms you have to be building for. With Silverlight, you build it once, and run it everywhere," he said.

He called JavaFX "interesting" and said "the Microsoft ecosystem, our great partnerships, and just that Microsoft is a trusted partner that people feel is going to be around for a long time" were its advantages, alluding to Sun's recent troubles and pending purchase by Oracle (NASDAQ: ORCL).

Silverlight is a free runtime available now for download. Expression with Blend is $599, without Blend it's $149, or developers can get Visual Studio Professional Edition and Expression together for $999.