Microsoft Expression Studio 4 Ultimate review
Expression Studio 4 Ultimate has an important role to play on the desktop, but its real significance lies in its ability to act as a bridge to more lightweight multi-platform development. Key to this is Silverlight, a cut-down subset of the full WPF and .NET frameworks, which developers can target via the cross-platform (Windows and Mac OS) Silverlight browser plugin. As well as a claimed 100% improvement in performance, the latest Silverlight 4 player adds support for multitouch, webcams and microphones, print output and online/offline DRM, all fully supported in Blend 4.
Expression Blend 4 primarily provides access to its new capabilities through its central Assets panel. There are two new controls of note, both available for WPF and Silverlight. RichTextBox can manage embedded hyperlinks, images and other controls as well as text editing. PathListBox lets you automatically distribute items around any path. In addition, new behaviours let you manage multitouch, animation and conditional operations without coding. The existing drop shadows and blur effects have been extended with 13 new filters, including magnification, colour and ripple effects.
Blend 4 adds important support for all of Microsoft’s latest technologies as well as some handy extras such as improved SketchFlow prototyping, but there’s been no real standout capability to help take the fight to archrival, Adobe. As things stand, Microsoft’s page-based tools remain inferior to those of Adobe and, while Blend has plenty of authoring strengths, Flash has wider cross-platform penetration and remains the natural choice for Rich Internet Application (RIA) development. This explains Microsoft’s decision to make both Expression 4 Studio releases available as free upgrades as an encouragement to existing users.
Behind the scenes, though, Microsoft has been working on a killer feature and it comes with the recently launched Service Pack 1 (SP1). When you start a new project, alongside the existing WPF and Silverlight options, you have a new set of choices to create Windows Phone 7 (WP7) applications. Select one and a Windows Phone template opens onscreen, onto which you can drag and drop controls, shapes, styles and behaviours just as you do for Silverlight and WPF projects. When ready, you can preview your application on either the built-in WP7 emulator or a phone attached to your computer.
Clearly the potential significance of Windows Phone 7 development depends on the future success and spread of devices. However, by opening up an Apple-style market for handheld WP7 applications, Expression Studio 4 Ultimate may well have found its must-have feature.
|Software subcategory||Web development|
Operating system support
|Operating system Windows Vista supported?||yes|
|Operating system Windows XP supported?||yes|