A new CTP for Microsoft Web Designer was recently released, and we finally got to take a look at it.
The first expression we felt was probably closest to anger, when we found out that Expression wouldn’t install on a machine that had Office 2007 Beta 1 TR 1 installed, but it seems that in using the Office 2007 installer (an excellent idea BTW, that installer is really easy to use, though a color other than grey would probably suite it better) it requires that no older versions of Office be installed. So we uninstalled Office 2007 and continued, the installation didn’t take long, and we were up and running 7 or 8 minutes later.
Now, there is no way to describe what the program looks like and do it justice. The word that comes to mind can’t possibly be used, yet I fail to see any other way of putting it: Microsoft Expression Web Designer looks Web 2.0! It’s a program, I know, but nevertheless, no doubt about it, the smooth and clean interface, the sharp fonts, the well-blended colors, and over all simplicity of the program leave one stunned. The icons used are very reminiscent of the Fam-Fam Silk collection, but different in their own way. The program looks absoloutely amazing, and leaves a good feeling behind: afterall, who wants to design a Web 2.0 site with something that looks like Frontpage? Even Dreamweaver looks bloated and ugly, but Expression takes the cake.
So Expression looks cool, great. But it’s also very improved functionality wise. It now outputs correct XHTML 1.1 code, something not even Dreamweaver has mastered, but it still uses the same irritating/border-line stupid dialogs for inserting/modifying components (especially the add-a-link dialog, still uses graphics from 1995!). It has excellently formed tag-sense built right in, very much like Dreamweaver’s tag displayer on hover, but taken several steps further.
If there is one feature that is lacking, it’s Expression’s lack of PHP awareness. ASP is wonderful, but the most popular web language remains PHP, and it get’s annoying to discover that you can’t even see the contents of PHP include() in design mode (Dreamweaver does that OK), and it would be a lot nicer to let it use whatever server-side technology exists on the test server instead of displaying all contents as static HTML.
All in all, Expression is the real deal, it seems that Microsoft has finally got it’s priorities right, and we’re seeing some quality code here and in the entire Office 2007 line-up. This is still the first CTP, there can be no doubt that improvements are on the way, but we really like what we see so far. At the moment, we’re redesigning NeoSmart Technologies for debut as WinHEC goes live, and 45% of the coding is done in Dreamweaver, 30% in VS.NET 2005, and the remaining 25% in Expression Web Designer, and we really like where that leaves us! :)