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Microsoft has long been cursed in my mind as the creator of the worst website creation software in existence – Frontpage. Littered with custom extensions, complex custom scripting, and an interface which makes it extremely easy to make a horrible website, their software has been responsible for some of the worst code I’ve ever had to clean up.

This month, Microsoft has at least unveiled their next generation web editor – Expression Web Designer. Although I never recommend a web editor as a replacement for learning the complexities of code, and no web editing tool available is capable of creating an accessible web site unless the person using the software is knowledgeable, Microsoft’s new product takes some valuable steps forward.

The very first statement on the Expression web site says a lot – it tells us exactly what goals Microsoft is espousing with this new product, and what they now consider to be important when it comes to selling web design products.

Microsoft® Expression® Web Designer gives you all the tools you’ll need to produce high-quality, standards-based Web sites the way you want them. Take advantage of the best of dynamic Web site design, enabling you to design, develop, and maintain exceptional standards-based Web sites.

I should make it clear that I don’t also believe that Microsoft is 100% dedicated to web standards. Internet Explorer 7 is a huge step forward, and I think that’s wonderful. However, when it comes to new web projects and services, Microsoft has not spent any significant effort on accessibility. They are beginning to recognize that accessibility and standards are the way of the future. It may take decades for that knowledge to filter through the entire company, however!

An interview from February of 2006 is posted on the Microsoft site which discusses a number of the commitments that Microsoft has made with this new project. This is, unsurprisingly, a basically glowing interview, but it does emphasize the fact that Expression will completely replace Frontpage, which will be discontinued.

The most exciting features, in my mind, are the built in html validation, browser compatibility reporting, and automated accessibility testing against Section 508 guidelines and the WCAG. As imperfect as automated accessibility testing is, it is a vast improvement to have it built in to a web editor. This greatly increases the likelihood that a designer will become aware of this important issue and at LEAST experiment with it.

The free trial should give a lot of web standards people their first chance to test it out and see what’s going to be happening. The trial is good through February of 2007, so there should be plenty of time in there to find any faults.

Cheryl D. Wise has written what is probably the first serious review of Expression Web Designer. She doesn’t go in depth, but will be posting additional reviews, articles, and tutorials to go with the software over the next few weeks.