Microsoft Expression Media (derived from the iView Media product acquired by Microsoft in July 2006 and available for the Mac as well) is the Expression suite's organisational tool for still images, video and audio.

Microsoft Expression Studio - the definitive review

In some ways Microsoft Expression Media is like a bigger, more professional cousin to Windows Vista's Photo Gallery application, not only because it supports more than just pictures but also because it works with high-end media types - such as RAW-format camera files from many major manufacturers such as Olympus or Nikon.

Adobe's competing product in the Microsoft Expression Media arena is probably Lightroom or Bridge, both of which contain organisational tools and work with RAW image files as well and have a deeply entrenched user base that's not likely to simply switch on a whim. On the other hand, Lightroom and Bridge don't work with anything except still images.

See also Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 review

See also Adobe Bridge CS3 review

A more direct Microsoft Expression Media competitor would be Extensis Portfolio, which supports RAW formats and video and offers a great many other professional-level features (such as a server component for the asset catalogue). Right now Media isn't much of a challenger, but it is a cautious first step and a decent starter choice for people who have no application like this yet.

The first thing you'll want to do with Microsoft Expression Media is fill it up with, er, media. This is easy enough: Select File, Import Items, point it at a directory, and let it slurp everything up. The files aren't moved from their original location; instead, a catalogue is compiled from their path names and metadata, and the catalog can be saved anywhere.

Once Microsoft Expression Media figures out what's to be imported, it processes the files asynchronously - you can continue doing other work with the program while it buzzes through everything and categorises it. Any folder added to a catalogue can be monitored for future changes (additions or deletions), although the flexibility of this feature is a little limited - you can set it to run only once a minute, once every five minutes, or on demand.

The next big thing you'll probably do with imported media is categorise it and add metadata - a task that ought to be familiar to anyone who's already played with Photo Gallery. If you add metadata to a file that is supported by industry-standard extensions for that file type - such as EXIF - it's written back to the file in addition to being stored in the catalogue. File types that cannot support some types of metadata directly (such as PNGs) will just have their metadata written into the catalog.

Expression Media's interface for adding metadata is far more detailed than Photo Gallery's, but we miss a few things from Photo Gallery that would be handy here. For instance, when you add keywords to existing pictures by typing, Media doesn't use smart completion to prompt the user from the existing store of keywords; it prompts you only from whatever has been typed in during that session. (On the plus side, you can assign keywords by dragging and dropping pictures onto a given keyword.)

Right-clicking on an item in the Expression Media catalogue lets you launch the file in its native application (such as Photoshop for a .PSD document), show the file in its original folder, move it to another folder while preserving its catalogue entry or perform a number of basic manipulations (rotate, change labels or rating).

If the original file can't be found, you can either search for it in another location or just remove it from the catalogue entirely. If the drive where a catalogue's original media resides is not available (say, a DVD-ROM or network link), you'll just get "Original media file not available" warnings for everything in the catalogue, but you can still browse normally.

Drag-and-drop operations from within Expression Media to other programs work like a drag-and-drop from Explorer itself: You can insert an image into a web page in Expression Web that way, or copy an image to a new folder.

Some of Microsoft Expression Media's other features are more conventional and familiar - making contact sheets, for instance, or building thumbnail galleries from lists of images, or converting images en masse. We liked a lot of little touches, too, such as the fact that multilayer Photoshop images can be browsed as thumbnails but can also be browsed layer by layer when you view them directly in Media.

One Expression Media feature that has a lot of promise but is actually disappointing is the PDF maker - this allows you to drag-and-drop pictures into a page of arbitrary size and export it as a PDF file, but you can only create single-page PDFs from it.

The more advanced features of Expression Media go a long way toward making it genuinely useful - for instance, all the program's functions are exposed through APIs, which you can see in action through a number of included sample scripts written in Visual Basic.

Quick links:

Microsoft Expression Web

Microsoft Expression Design

Microsoft Expression Media

Microsoft Expression Blend

Microsoft Expression Media: Specs

  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista
  • 1.0Ghz with MMX or equivalent
  • 1GB RAM
  • 1.5GB hard drive
  • Microsoft DirectX 9-capable or DirectX 9.0-capable video card with 256MB or more of memory (eg ATI Radeon X300 or NVIDIA GeForce 5600 or better)
  • 1,024x768 monitor resolution with 24-bit colour
  • QuickTime 7.1.3
  • DVD-ROM drive (Mac OS X 10.4
  • PowerPC or Intel Core
  • 512MB RAM
  • QuickTime 7.1.3
  • monitor set to Millions of Colors
  • 20MB hard drive
  • DVD-ROM Drive
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista
  • 1.0Ghz with MMX or equivalent
  • 1GB RAM
  • 1.5GB hard drive
  • Microsoft DirectX 9-capable or DirectX 9.0-capable video card with 256MB or more of memory (eg ATI Radeon X300 or NVIDIA GeForce 5600 or better)
  • 1,024x768 monitor resolution with 24-bit colour
  • QuickTime 7.1.3
  • DVD-ROM drive (Mac OS X 10.4
  • PowerPC or Intel Core
  • 512MB RAM
  • QuickTime 7.1.3
  • monitor set to Millions of Colors
  • 20MB hard drive
  • DVD-ROM Drive

OUR VERDICT

Expression Media will probably find a niche, and while we suspect it's the kind of program that might be too easily eclipsed by something free or open-source, the support for raw camera files ought to lure in professionals who need that sort of thing, provided they don't already have an application to do it. (Also note that only Expression Media is available for Mac OS X. A Microsoft spokesperson said that the company has no plans to deliver Mac versions of the other tools in the suite - which makes sense, given its focus on the Windows development platform.)

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