Microsoft’s Expression Web Designer

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.

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5 Comments to “Microsoft’s Expression Web Designer”

  1. I hope that Expression will actually be better than FrontPage. Microsoft should have already learned something about FrontPage and it’s unpopularity by now so there’s a good chance that Expression will be devoid of the mistakes that Mirosoft made in creating FrontPage.

  2. It can be a little hard to believe, Brian! I wrote on the sad choice to use Word to render HTML in Outlook a while ago – One Step Forward, One Step Back. As I’ve said before, though, I don’t think it’s a problem with commitment to standards; I think it’s more of a communication issue. There’s no competent central standards group at Microsoft with oversight on these issues.

    Possibly, however, Molly Holzschlag’s influence will be something useful!

    I’m not holding my breath.

  3. Maybe Expression was a standards smokescreen??

    It only took nine months, if that, for Microsoft to fall back on their standards promise. Yep, they are so committed to standards, they built in Outlook 2007 their Microsoft Word HTML rendering engine to render HTML e-mails. It fails to support most of CSS 2.

    We all would love to believe that Microsoft is committed to standards. Unfortunately, time and time again we see the opposite. When will Microsoft fully wake up? I guess their still experiencing their “wow” with all the blue screens Vista is producing.

  4. Thanks for the update, Cheryl!

  5. While I do not yet have any accessibility related tutorials on EWD up a FAQ is now available and half a dozen tutorials have been added. The tutorials are a mix of text based and ordo tutorials. Approximately one third of the videos are open captioned and the others will have captioning eventually.

    Cheryl

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