FrontPage Replacement Out In Beta

Microsoft’s Expression Web design tool is one step closer to the market, along with a new beta and a shorter name.

The product formerly known as Microsoft  Expression Web Designer is now Expression Web and has entered its first public beta after several months in the Community Technology Preview program.

Expression Web is Microsoft’s first serious entry into the Web design and publishing market. It had a Web designer in the form of FrontPage, but FrontPage was never meant for heavy-duty Web page development and has fallen significantly behind in keeping up with the advance of new Web technologies.

Microsoft decided to simply toss the whole thing and start over, although some elements from FrontPage have been saved for Expression Web.

Expression Web will offer a much more professional environment for Web developers who know their HTML, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), XML, XHTML, and XSLT. Microsoft was much more mindful of Web standards by adding a built-in auditing panel to test pages for standards compliance, and removing some of the old proprietary FrontPage extensions.

This public beta pretty much contains everything that will be in the final product. Microsoft hopes to have it out by the end of this year, or early 2007 at the latest, according to Wayne Smith, senior product manager for Expression Web.

As with other Microsoft beta software, the company is looking for a wide range of testers. “In testing a product, you can’t recreate every type of Web page that’s possible, so we’re looking for standards compliance feedback for all types of pages,” said Smith.

Although Expression Web is meant to offer a more comprehensive product than creaky, old, FrontPage, Smith said it’s still approachable by beginners.

“Just because it’s a professional tool doesn’t mean it’s a complex product to use,” he said. “We tried to make the UI as approachable as possible. There’s no reason less-skilled people can’t use it to make a Web site. There’s something there for everyone.”

Despite the presence of established Web design tools like Dreamweaver, Greg DeMichillie of Directions on Microsoft thinks there’s room for a product like Expression Web.

“There’s always room for more Web tools, frankly, because none of these tools are so good that that’s all anyone would need,” he said. “From what I’ve seen, Dreamweaver has its own limitations, so I think there’s room for MS to try and do a different and better Web editor.”

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