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I think that if you are into development using Microsoft products, then you should really checkout Expression Blend 2 and Expression Design 2.

Software Review: Microsoft Expression Studio 2 – Expression Blend 2 & Expression Design 2

This is the second of a series of three reviews that will cover what is contained in the Microsoft Expression Studio 2 Collection. Expression Studio is the latest version of Microsoft's development design set. In Studio 2 there are five programs that are geared to Web and application developers and designers. The products include Expression Web, Expression Blend, Expression Design, Expression Media, and Expression Encoder. The goal is define what each product does and provide information of what it can do for you. Here I will look at Microsoft Expression Blend 2 & Microsoft Expression Design 2.

What do you need to run Expression Studio 2? On Windows you need an 1GHz or faster processor, Windows XP SP2 or Vista; on Mac, PowerPC® or multicore Intel processor, Mac OS X v10.4.11 – 10.5.4 (Leopard), 1GB RAM, 1024×768 display (1280×800 recommended) with a 24-bit video card, 2GB hard drive space, and DVD-ROM Drive.

MicrosoftExpression Blend 2

Expression Blend is a user interface design tool that is used for creating graphical user interfaces for Web and desktop applications. You have the option to target Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) or Silverlight 1. Each has a slightly different interface to work with. The interface itself was created using WPF.

Expression Blend contains a WYSIWYG design surface that allows you to lay all of your artwork, controls, and containers directly on the surface and get real-time feedback as you work. Expression Blend contains a timeline that lets you animate individual properties of objects using onscreen motion for better control.

Along with the ability to visually style and customize your controls, you also have access to import geometry from leading 3D authoring tools, or create them yourself in Expression Blend. You can data-bind your interface elements from Web Services and .NET objects in such a way that your application is active before you write code (desktop only). You can work with your XAML code in full edit, or in split view to see the controls on the page, and all of this is integrated with Visual Studio.

So what is new with Expression Blend 2?

• Silverlight – enabled Web sites are now able to be worked on directly from within Expression Blend without the need for a Visual Studio project or solution file. You can now design for Microsoft's Web platform in the same tool that you use for building WPF applications in .NET. You can even create simple interactivity in Blend's built-in JavaScript editor without the need to switch programs

• Animation – offers more control by working with the individual points of vector shapes to morph their appearance. You can use vertex animation on any path or object including clipping paths.

• Control Creation – will let you create user controls from design elements by converting existing XAML artwork at any stage in your design process.

• Font Embedding – in a WPF application,  it's easy. By taking your font file (you need make sure you have the appropriate licenses to use the fonts) you can embed all or part of any typeface that you need into your project.

• Import and Export – will let you import resources and canvases from Expression Design, import Silverlight 1 media player projects from Expression Encoder, and modify Expression Encoder templates

• Samples – of Silverlight 1 and product interoperability are now included with this latest version of Expression Blend.

MicrosoftExpression Design 2

Expression Design is Microsoft's professional illustration vector and raster graphic design tool that was based on Creature House Expression which was acquired by Microsoft in 2003. It contains export and slicing tools that will let you bring your art work to Expression Design and Expression Web and has flexible export options that let you target individual slices as separate formats including Silverlight and WPF canvas, HTML comp, XAML, PSD, and PDF.

You can target multiple formats such that you can export multiple formats at one time. You can place and align graphic elements using snap-to, grids, points, guides, and pixels. You can create buttons, backgrounds, and other image assets for use in authoring tools. It has vector drawing and editing tools to create artwork, and Live Effects, allows you to apply effects and filters to any vector or bitmapped object, all in a non-destructive and editable manor.

So what is new with Expression Design 2?

• Improved Workflow – has been significantly enhanced with regard to the ways that you can export your artwork into Expression Blend and Expression Web. This includes XAML and bitmap files.

• Targeting of Multiple Formats – will let you send individual slices to different formats including Silverlight and WPF canvas, WPF Resource dictionary, HTML comp, XAML, PSD, and PDF.

• Crisper Bitmaps – are now available by using the Snap-To Pixels feature with which you can create vector art that can be exported as crisp bitmap. This is helpful when you use vector art for buttons or icons in a UI.

I liked Expression Blend especially because of its integration with Visual Studio, but it would be nicer if it had its own code deployment capabilities. I like the way that new projects are treated as solutions and you can add more than one project to a solution (as in Visual Studio), and that the solutions are compatible with a Visual Studio solution.

I also like that Expression Blend can create either WPF or Silverlight applications. I think that there is more work to be done on the latter since you don't have the richness of all the controls that are available on the WPF side, and you don't have all of the advanced Rich Internet Application support as well.

Expression Design is an overall improvement and works well for those who need the graphics capabilities and does not want the overhead, costs, and learning curve of heavier products. It also has the tremendous plus of the fact that its native file format is XAML so that anything that you create can be used in WPF and Silverlight.

If you order the Expression Studio 2 Subscription, you not only get the five products in the Studio, you also get a copy of Microsoft Windows Vista, and a copy of Microsoft Visual Studio Standard Edition as well, along with a years worth of updates.

As with Web 2, I found Expression Blend and Expression Design both easy to use and work with. I think that the studio route is the way to go especially if you are into Web and application development using Microsoft products. I can easily recommend Microsoft Expression Blend 2 and Expression Design 2.

About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.

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