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Can Microsoft Expression Web Designer Touch Dreamweaver?

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Look out, Dreamweaver. Consider Microsoft Expression Web Designer as Dreamweaver's new rival. Meryl Evans tells you why you shouldn't look at this competition in the iPod vs. everybody way, but instead in the Dell vs. HP way.
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Look out, Dreamweaver. Consider Microsoft Expression Web Designer as Dreamweaver’s new rival. Don’t look at this competition in the iPod vs. everybody way, but rather in the Dell vs. HP way.

FrontPage is out of the race. Microsoft has gotten serious about targeting creative professionals including Web designers and user interface developers, with its Expression suite—consisting of Graphic Designer, Interactive Designer, and Web Designer.

Formerly known as Acrylic, Graphic Designer is said to be a cross between rival Adobe’s Photoshop and Illustrator applications. The application comes with vector- and pixel-based capabilities for creating and editing visual drawings and images. Can Graphic Designer compete with Adobe Illustrator? According to this article, the application is strong, but not quite strong enough to compete.

With Interactive Designer (previously known by its code name Sparkle), designers and developers build user interfaces for applications based on the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and extensible application markup language (XAML).

Web Designer, née Quartz, isn’t a FrontPage upgrade with a new name, although, there won’t be any more FrontPage releases. Because of FrontPage’s Word-like interface, small businesses and non-Web designers used it to create their own Web sites. Such users won’t find it easy to dig into Web Designer as opposed to FrontPage. More-experienced Web designers (especially those strong supporters of Web standards) might not give Web Designer a single look because of FrontPage and Microsoft’s history of Web standards noncompliance.

What designers might not realize is that Microsoft finally drank the Kool-Aid. The Expression Web Designer application walks the Web standards walk. One caution: Web Designer currently only supports ASP.NET. Microsoft built the ASP.NET platform; it isn’t a surprise that Expression Web Designer was designed to support that platform. This is obviously a drawback for those designers who work with PHP, JSP, and other non-ASP.NET platforms, making it difficult for Microsoft to expand its reach beyond the ASP.NET users.

Opening an Old, Outdated, and Nonstandard Web Page

I dug up a Web page I created in Dreamweaver 3.0 (around 1999 and 2000). The markup was full of font and table—passé stuff. I opened the file in Dreamweaver 8 and Expression Web Designer and proceeded to rebuild the page starting from scratch, but I then copied the content from the old file to see how the applications would handle legacy code.

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 1 Split code view in Expression Web Designer

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2 Split code view in Adobe Dreamweaver 8

Div was harder to create and adjust in Dreamweaver. After spending the same amount of time in both applications and modifying a few things in the code, Dreamweaver didn’t put the street signs on the right side, which is where they belong. Web Expression placed the image too far to the right, but its result closely resembles the original design.

Figure 3

Figure 3 Previewing page created with Microsoft Web Designer

The screen shot shows that Dreamweaver’s preview didn’t match what showed up in the browser. Expression displayed the content closer together because the page size setting was set for a narrow display. Had the setting been changed to 795 x 420, the content would have appeared very wide as it did in the browser.

Figure 4

Figure 4 Previewing page created with Adobe Dreamweaver 8

Web Expression points out each code error with the red squiggly line, like Microsoft Word does when it finds typos. Roll the mouse cursor over the problem code, and a description of the problem appears in a tooltip. In Dreamweaver, you must proactively run validation to find errors, although Dreamweaver occasionally highlights errors like a missing closing tag. The same applies for the spellchecker. Expression uses the familiar red squiggly lines whenever it thinks that there’s a misspelled word while Dreamweaver requires executing spellchecker.

Both applications do well in catching deprecated tags and other nonstandard markup. Neither pointed out the missing doctype definition. Nasty oversight.

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