Aaron Brethorst

Round peg in a square hole, rabid generalist.

Microsoft Announces Expression Suite

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Microsoft, today, launched Expression Studio and WPF/E, its first big foray into the designer space. What does it consist of, and what does it mean to you? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 13 hours and 45 minutes now (it’s a joke, yeesh), you would have heard about Microsoft’s announcement of Expression Studio. Expression Studio (incidentally, Expression is the brand, here, just like “Visual”). Expression Studio consists of four products:

Expression Web - a pretty high-end WYSIWYG web development tool, which I think is quite cool (Download a trial).

Expression Blend - Formerly known as Sparkle, this is a wicked-cool design tool that is closest in spirit to Adobe’s Flash development tools. One of the coolest parts about Blend is that it offers some integration with Visual Studio - it reads and writes VS solution and project types, meaning that you get integration between the two products: your designers can design UI and your developers can develop the product. No more silly mockups to contend with ;-) (Download Beta 1)

Expression Design - An illustration and graphic design tool that’s been around in Beta form for quite a while now. Also offers a good amount of integration with VS and the rest of the Expression suite. (Download Community Tech Preview)

Expression Media - This is a something-or-another that my Ux team seems very excited about, but I don’t quite fully appreciate, so I’ll just cut-n-paste our marketing copy on the subject, instead: “Expression Media is a professional asset management tool to visually catalog and organize all your digital assets for effortless retrieval and presentation.” (Download a trial)

So, what’s with all the excitement surrounding this launch? Well, for me it comes down to two things:

First: a decrease in time-to-market, as described by Rory Blyth on Scoble’s blog (who, evidently, was duped a few years back into thinking that Longhorn concept videos were the real thing):

When initially designing an interface (drafting, testing, tweaking, usability testing, etc), you are going to change a lot - possibly making drastic changes. Mocking up such interfaces in Visual Studio and having a programmer “make it work” (to the extent of illustrating interactions) only for you to break it an hour later is simply bad workflow. It would be a full time job for some unlucky programmer to keep your experimental interface working properly. Making use of rapid-prototyping tools, such as Macromedia Director, gives you an easy way to make interfaces “work” without needing any real code (scripting doesn’t count) behind it. The catch is that once you’ve finalized the interface, there is no way to hook the program logic up to it without recreating everything in Visual Studio’s designer; that means a programmer has to work through your mockup and try to recreate what you’ve made (not trivial), at times trying to read your mind (very bad). Blend, ironically, blends the best of both worlds. You get rapid-prototyping in the sense that you do not need actual program logic to drive all interactions (to an extent) and you can reinvent the interface as much as necessary. You do not have to toss out the prototype when it’s complete and nobody has to read your mind because, like the Visual Studio designer, Blend has written code for you that the program logic can easily be tied into.

Second, WPF/e. More on this later. It’s hot, though. (notice, for starters, the fact that there are Mac and Windows downloads for it)

Update: Ryan Stewart of ZDNet has great coverage on what WPF/E means to you.