Microsoft today released Expression Studio 4, the latest version of their Web development tooling brought up to date with support for Silverlight 4, .Net Framework 4 and Visual Studio 2010 and the expected variety of feature enhancements. However, what is missing is the promised support for Windows Phone 7 development:
Microsoft is providing a timeline for when it will add Windows Phone 7 support to Expression Studio 4. Here’s a statement from a spokesperson:
“We will ship a service pack for Expression Studio 4 within the next few weeks that will include Windows Phone 7 support. Developers can now get a beta of the design tools targeted at development for Windows Phone 7, which include a free version of Expression Blend as part of the Windows Phone 7 SDK. The final version of the Windows Phone 7 SDK will be made available to developers well before the general availability of Windows Phone 7 devices in market, to ensure adequate time for development.”
And as a matter of fact, wannabe Windows Phone 7 developers should not even install the released version of Expression Studio 4. Not the best start for a new and seemingly critical release to regain Microsoft’s lost smartphone momentum.
Microsoft also took the opportunity to condense the four different packages available for Expression Studio 3 into only three for Expression Studio 4:
Q: What products are included in the Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Ultimate?
A: Expression Studio 4 Ultimate is comprised of 4 products, Expression Web 4, Microsoft Expression Blend® 4 + SketchFlow, Expression Encoder 4 Pro and Expression Design 4. Expression Blend 4 includes SketchFlow in Expression Studio 4 Ultimate product only.
Q: What products are included in the Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Premium?
A: Expression Studio 4 Premium is comprised of 4 products, Expression Web 4, Microsoft Expression Blend 4, Expression Encoder 4 and Expression Design 4. Expression Studio 4 Premium is not available for retail purchase.
Q: What products are included in the Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Web Professional?
A: Expression Studio 4 Web Professional is comprised of 3 products, Expression Web 4, Expression Encoder 4 and Expression Design 4.
Along the way however, they restricted the highly regarded SketchFlow design tool to only the high dollar Ultimate subscription. Previous users of Expression Blend 3 plus SketchFlow are understandably cranky, particularly as the change came without warning.
Microsoft has released Silverlight 3, the latest version of their rich media application platform which rivals Adobe Flash. In addition, a release candidate of Expression Blend 3, the Silverlight development tooling, has also been released with a promise of the full Expression 3 family of Web development products shipping within 30 days.
You can hit the websites for Silverlight or the Expression family or the combination for much more detail, but Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie offers a succinct summary of what is new. My choices for the high points:
Silverlight 3 enables applications to run outside the browser and taken offline. Users can safely install web applications on their computers, and create persistent shortcuts to them on the desktop, start menu and taskbar (this is supported on both Windows and the Mac).
Silverlight 3 now supports hardware graphics acceleration and HD video. IIS Media Services is a free server product that complements Silverlight and provides the ability to efficiently stream media over HTTP. It enables both on-demand and live HD video to be delivered using “smooth streaming” – which is an adaptive streaming algorithm that can deliver video at bitrates optimized for a client’s network conditions and CPU capabilities.
Free download that enables Silverlight 3 development support for VS 2008 and the free Visual Web Developer 2008 Express.
The latter has the potential to really explode Silverlight adoption by placing the bar to entry very low. On the other hand, I found the IIS Media Services demo to be anything but smooth streaming.
Finally, per Scott Guthrie, "Expression Studio 3 will be included as part of the MSDN Premium and higher subscriptions (meaning MSDN Premium customers don’t have to pay anything extra to get all of the Expression Studio products). " This apparently ends the furor over whether developers with MSDN subscriptions should get access to "designer" tools as part of the subscription.
Overshadowed by the Microsoft Yahoo takeover soap opera last week, Microsoft released version 2 of its Expression Studio collection of Web tools:
Expression Encoder is new in version 2 of the Studio and among other new features, Silverlight support was added to all of the tools, and PHP and ASP.NET 3.5 support was added to Expression Web. The PHP support reflects broader aspirations than just covering the needs of captive Microsoft technology developers but it will be difficult to break the grip that Adobe Dreamweaver has on that market.
Less desirable is the perpetuation of the wacky dichotomy between Microsoft developer tools (Visual Studio) and design tools (Expression). Developers who subscribe to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) have been promised only a subset of the Expression tools and they will have to either ante up for a standalone copy or buy an Express Professional Subscription (which partially overlaps the MSDN subscription) to get the full set.
While the last bullet isn’t a Web app, SQL Server Data Services is obviously a building block for constructing Web apps and could fill up some of the data centers that were also part of the rumors. The beta will be available in 3 to 4 weeks with a launch by the end of the year. Note that SSDS isn’t a full fledged hosted SQL Server or just a raw data store like Amazon’s S3. It fits in between as a simplified structured database service with the closest analog being Amazon’s simpleDB. It is early days yet, but one can’t help but wonder whether other major database vendors have the will (and the wherewithal) to join the party.
Finally, while they aren’t Web apps either, earlier last week Microsoft announced some more data center filler with the extension of their Microsoft Online Services offering of hosted versions of Exchange and SharePoint to small and mid-sized businesses.
Predictably, the press release is effusive in describing the opportunities for Microsoft partners, even those whose Exchange hosting services have been neatly undercut. The theory is that they can now sell Microsoft’s hosted service with a bunch of their own embellishments. Less happy are ISV’s who sell SharePoint add-ons that won’t appear in the Microsoft offering. There’s surely a pony in Microsoft hosting their own server applications, but it’s a low margin, capital intensive business compared to selling software.