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Microsoft Touches Up Expression Tool

By: David Utter

Expression Studio represents Microsoft's entry into a graphic design market dominated by Adobe's Photoshop, where many potential users live on Apple's Mac OS platform.

Adobe, Microsoft Collide Over PDFIn a way, Expression represents an attempt to make inroads on two markets. Affecting Photoshop's market share looks like a daunting proposition. Photoshop has probably reached the same status as Google when it comes to its usage in the language; people say a picture has been Photoshopped rather than altered.

Apple represents the other market, despite Photoshop having been available for the Windows platform for years. Microsoft won't get hardcore Mac fans to abandon their platform or their favorite software, but they may not be the company's focus anyway.

Where Microsoft can have an impact would be in the education market, where Apple once fully dominated the scene. Apple still has a strong presence, especially among budding graphic artists. Imagine the havoc Microsoft could wreak with offers of free or cut-rate Expression licenses to schools and colleges.

That's very much a forward thinking view, as the full Expression Studio won't be available until second quarter 2007, if it arrives on target. Microsoft announced the availability of Expression Web today, a component of Studio.

Expression Web becomes what FrontPage used to be, a website creation tool. Microsoft said the new product will enable the creation of standards-based sites, a claim I found amusing when I pulled up the Expression site in Opera 9.02, and found the navigation bar had shifted left to cover up the Microsoft Expression logo.

It looks fine in Firefox, and IE of course. But someone on the Expression team may be unclear on the concept of "standards."

Expression General Manager Eric Zocher said that Microsoft is targeting professional designers with the Expression Web release. Ideally the new product will help the front-end designers become "better integrated into the process of building and delivering user experiences."

But hasn't that transition largely taken place before now? Companies, especially in the SMB market, want soup-to-nuts web developers who are adept with the back- and front-end creation experience. Converting today's designer from the Adobe juggernaut looks like a difficult challenge for Microsoft no matter what marketing effort they can put forth.

Tomorrow's designers, though, may be better candidates for Microsoft's attention. If Microsoft looks long term, they could find a better return on their investment in Expression than the prospect of prying a Photoshop pro out of Adobe's grasp.

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