Microsoft Expression Web 2 review
The adoption of web standards is welcome, but Web 2's AJAX support is, disappointingly, still rooted in Microsoft's own technologies.
Review Date: 16 May 2008
Reviewed By: Tom Arah
Price when reviewed: £275 (£316 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
Ease of Use
The mission for the first release of Expression Web was clear: to lay the ghost of Microsoft's unpopular FrontPage web authoring package. It largely succeeded by concentrating on providing standards-compliant support for the web's core markup languages, (X)HTML and CSS. Apart from minor tweaks, such as the ability to automatically alphabeticise HTML properties, the handling of these two pillars is left unchanged and Expression Web 2 now seeks to widen its standards support.
In the script
First up, and most striking, is the new support for PHP, the popular server-side scripting language for building dynamic web sites. Expression Web 2 now provides full PHP coding support which not only means syntax colour-coding, but also full IntelliSense to help you choose functions and global variables and tooltips to provide information about parameters. Crucially, after you've installed PHP on your system, you can preview pages locally without having to upload your website to a server.
The support for PHP will surprise many because Microsoft offers its own rival server-side scripting language. What won't surprise anyone is that Microsoft's support for its own ASP.NET technology goes much deeper - and has been greatly extended in Web 2. The key to this deeper integration is the ability to drag dozens of ASP controls, from AdRotator through to XML, directly onto your page and manage their defining parameters directly in Web's Design view. An important new data handling control has been added in the new sortable, editable and pageable ListView. And Web 2 also now supports custom ASP.NET controls that you download from third-party sources or develop yourself in Visual Studio.
The biggest development by far for ASP.NET users is AJAX support, which takes the form of server-side controls. Drag the ScriptManager control onto your page and then nest content within UpdatePanel controls and these can then be updated asynchronously. Web 2's implementation is nowhere near as simple as Dreamweaver CS3's Spry framework as it requires server side set-up and hands-on scripting, but it's well worth getting to grips with. AJAX is essential for creating modern state-of-the-art sites where awkward full page refreshes are avoided and the dynamic web application seems more like a responsive desktop application. ASP.NET developers will seize on this new power.
Expression Web 2 doesn't just add new web scripting power; it also improves support for web media standards. Disappointingly, Expression Web 2 doesn't include a copy of Expression Design 2 for generating web graphics, but it largely - and surprisingly - makes up for this omission by adding support for Adobe Photoshop. Import a PSD file and you can choose which layers are converted and preview optimisation settings onscreen. More importantly, you can re-edit the original file in Photoshop and quickly update your web-optimised JPEG, GIF or PNG.
Static bitmap handling is central to web design, but these days dynamic media isn't far behind. Predictably, Microsoft has made it easier to add and manage audio and video in those formats supported by its own Windows Media Player. Less predictably, it extends similar support to its biggest web media rival, the cross-platform Adobe Flash. In fact the support for Flash is actually deeper as you can preview SWF content in Design view. Rather less impressive is Expression Web 2's claimed support for RealPlayer and QuickTime, as you have to go through hoops to approve their ActiveX players and then add all code by hand.
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