Okay so it’s time to get our hands dirty and actually play with one of the tools: Expression Web!

To be honest this was kind of an anti-climax for me. Expression Web is a good HTML editor. That’s about it. I’d go so far as to say a very good HTML editor if you do design web pages for ASP.Net development… but don’t DO the actual ASP.Net development (i.e pass it on to a developer). It has some nice features and I might start using it over Dreamweaver as a general HTML editor depending on how the next Dreamweaver release pans out. Expression Web seems to generate clean, compliant code (note: I didn’t thoroughly check the compliance yet but all seemed good). It has a nice easy integration with ASP.Net controls for layout and it also has nice CSS integration. Other than that I wasn’t particularly bowled over, maybe it’ll shine more as we move into some of the other technologies over the coming week. Another point that may be of interest to some is that Expression Web supports dwt (dynamic web templates or Dreamweaver templates) and master pages, both of which allow the creation of consistent layouts without having to rewrite the page’s framework. I think Expression Web will be a great tool for the designer who sees their design through to a CSS’d HTML layout and primes said layout to be passed onto a .Net developer with the proper controls intact and ready to roll.

Things I’d like to see in Expression Web (may already be there but I couldn’t find it) is more support for languages other than HTML and .Net. This hums of old Microsoft without it. Expression Web is a very good HTML editor, it really wouldn’t be bad for MS to include syntax highlighting etc for other technologies such as PHP or even Classic ASP (you can Save As but that’s about it). Also integration with Source Control is an absolute must, I’m not sure if it would integrate with a shell client such as TortoiseSVN (the folder view seems to be a standard Vista folder display so maybe it does – I don’t use Vista yet) but to not offer support for Visual Source Safe on a released product that supports .net controls doesn’t make sense to me. Another annoyance for the feedback team is that when using the “Add new style” panel, you might spend several minutes putting together the right style by selecting the available options (ideal for those learning CSS) but if you haven’t got a valid HTML header available in the currently open document you have to close the style panel with no option for saving or recalling it.

We also looked at building Vista Gadgets. These are quite cool because of their simplicity, you basically design a small interface in html, add some code with JavaScript which has access to some desktop api’s and you then package it into a zip (or .gadget) file with an xml file detailing the structure of your gadget and a settings file if required. It reminded me a little of how you package an Apollo app but with zipping instead of compiling. If you get a chance to play on a Vista machine, find a Gadget and dig around the folder’s source files, it’s very simple and I can see a lot of benefits of such a simple system… A quick search also found a HUGE amount of useless gadgets which I feel may be hiding some of the better ones.

Expression Training Day 1 – Summary
Overall: Not Bad
The morning sessions got me excited and very much buying into Expression and Silverlight, unfortunately the afternoon was a little slow and judging by the high skill-level that was in the room the pace was way off. Even though this stage of the course has already been radically reduced based on the feedback from the first time the course was ran, it was still very uninspiring. We were shown some amazing WPF and Silverlight demos and then crawled through some basic HTML editing for the rest of the day. I think it would be ideal for people new to web design but in a room full of experienced developers from some of the capital’s top agencies (and me :P) it wasn’t the right content, particularly based on the pre-reqs that were on the course notes.

BUT THAT IS OKAY – I feel I must point out that whilst I may have grumbled a little in this post, this is only the first day of the course and only second time that this course has ever been ran. Microsoft (by way of Jon and Andrew) are massively keen on ‘getting it right’. This is why I’m still enthused by the MS offering as they seem to be focusing their efforts towards the developers and are hungry for feedback in striving to perfect developer support and improve their products and uptake of said products. Reading back it sounds almost like I’m just airing my dirty laundry with the course, apologies if that is how it reads because the intention is to provide feedback and also share the Expression learning experience. I’m still very much looking forward to tomorrow and the rest of the week.