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Software Reviews
15,670 Reviews

Microsoft Expression Studio - the definitive review

$599 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Microsoft

Our Rating: We rate this 3.5 out of 5

Microsoft's new Expression Studio suite brings together four programs that stake out some new territories for Microsoft and strengthen the company's presence in existing ones. They form a design suite for internet and desktop applications.

Microsoft's new Expression Studio suite (available online for about £450) brings together four programs that stake out some new territories for Microsoft and strengthen the company's presence in existing ones.

Whenever Microsoft introduces a new set of products, it's worth paying close attention. Microsoft doesn't always get it right, particularly first time out - early versions of Internet Explorer, for example, were terrible - but over time it learns lessons that you sometimes only learn by being an underdog. And Microsoft usually stays in the game.

Microsoft Expression Web is the latest incarnation of FrontPage, an adjunct to Microsoft Office, while Expression Design, Expression Blend and Expression Media are entirely new applications. They're meant to work together as a design suite for the internet and for desktop applications, especially as a way to support Microsoft's Silverlight technology and the .Net platform in general.

Microsoft's Silverlight is intended as a competitor to Adobe's Flash in some respects. Silverlight lets you run rich internet applications in a browser but also includes some more advanced features such as JavaScript functionality (you can command a Silverlight app with JavaScript) and AJAX (a Silverlight app can dynamically load content from somewhere else). To that end, Expression Studio is the first iteration of a set of tools to allow people to create those apps.

Microsoft Expression Studio tools can be used on their own for other things - if you just want to pick up Expression Web and use that to work on your existing website, you can do so - but it's clear that Microsoft wants this to be the first step toward making Silverlight as common a presence on the web as Flash itself. For now, the individual pieces are intriguing, and we'll examine each of them in turn.

First, a note about Expression Studio's availability. Right now, all four applications in the suite are available as fully functional, 60-day trial downloads - a good way to get your hands on them before they are officially released.

The current iteration of the Microsoft Expression Studio suite contains Expression Blend 1.0 - discussed below - but Blend 2.0 is already in a preview (beta) form with a 180-day trial period. We feel that Microsoft Expression Blend 2.0 will be released long after both Blend 1.0 and the full Studio product are out in stores, and people who bought Blend in either form will get a free upgrade.

Also available only in its free trial form is Expression Media Encoder, which converts video into the proprietary VC-1 codec used by Silverlight.

Quick links:

Microsoft Expression Web

Microsoft Expression Design

Microsoft Expression Media

Microsoft Expression Blend

Microsoft Expression Studio Expert Verdict »

Windows XP Service Pack 2 or Windows Vista
1.0Ghz with MMX or equivalent
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
QuickTime 7.1.3
monitor set to Millions of Colors
20MB hard drive
DVD-ROM Drive)
  • Ease of Use: We give this item 7 of 10 for ease of use
  • Features: We give this item 8 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Overall: We give this item 7 of 10 overall

It's hard not to see Microsoft Expression Studio as less a true "suite" than a collection of products that have been co-branded after the fact - partly because Microsoft's other suite, Office, is so tightly knit in comparison. It's tough to see how the products in Expression Studio fit into a single integrated workflow or how they can all be used together, aside from creating XAML applications for websites. Expression Design's vector-drawing tools seem to be mainly for the sake of creating graphics for use in Expression Blend, for example, which could create applications embedded in a site using Expression Web. But there are still many pieces missing - where's Adobe Photoshop? Did Microsoft not include an image-editor simply because it felt that many people out there already had something that did the job? This sort of patchiness suggests Microsoft simply wanted to get something out there to start making it possible to build Silverlight/.Net/XAML/WPF applications. This is, again, in essence the same tactic the company used for Internet Explorer: get something, anything, out into the marketplace, and build it up over time. The individual pieces that do exist aren't bad. The Microsoft Expression Studio program we were most impressed by was Expression Web, if only because it represents such a positive step forward from FrontPage. Expression Blend is impressive in its own way, and we suspect it will be something that desktop programmers (as opposed to web designers) will glom onto first and try to do creative things with. 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. We liked Expression Design, which, as capably assembled as it is, doesn't really stand much chance of wresting attention away from Adobe Illustrator right now. In fact, Adobe doesn't have much to worry about, period, from Expression Studio at this juncture. (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.) One feature of the entire Microsoft Expression Studio bundle that could prove attractive to a lot of Windows users is its price. Getting all these tools for the price is pretty hard to beat, and if you need at least two of them, it's a fair bargain. If history is any guide, though, Microsoft will have a finger in the wind for how the suite can be made more of a suite, and make the next version of Expression Studio a truly remarkable piece of work.

  • Microsoft Expression Web

    Microsoft Expression Web

    Microsoft Expression Web is what Microsoft FrontPage should have been all along, and the only shame of it is that it took Microsoft this long to get it right.

  • Microsoft Expression Blend

    Microsoft Expression Blend

    Microsoft Expression Blend is a little hard to describe. It's a design tool for creating XAML application interfaces, mainly for programs that run on .Net 3.0 and the WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation). It's been superficially compared to Microsoft's take on Adobe Flash, but we're not sure that's a precise comparison.

  • Microsoft Expression Web

    Microsoft Expression Web

    Microsoft's Expression Web places CSS (cascading style sheets), XML, and other industry standards at the core of its site design and management strategy.

  • Microsoft Silverlight 3 review

    Microsoft Silverlight 3

    Microsoft Silverlight 3, Microsoft's much-enhanced rich internet application platform runs on Windows or Mac desktops, online or offline

  • Microsoft Expression Media

    Microsoft Expression Media

    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.

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