Today Microsoft announced that it was making Expression Web and Expression Design “free” and the “free” versions would be without support. As for those who have purchased Expression Web in the past it is on “support lifecycle” which means the programs will no longer be developed. There is an implication that features from Expression Web will eventually appear in Visual Studio but what or when is unknown. Microsoft is no longer going to have a presence in the web design world. Web application development, perhaps but that isn’t the same thing. For 20 years I’ve been creating websites. I’ve used Microsoft web tools for more than a dozen years but I’m a front-end not .NET developer so I will not move to Visual Studio, you’ve lost me and those who create websites not “applications”.
I just finished reading Morton’s commentary on today’s announcement. His blog post reflects many of my own thoughts. Like Morton I’ve been involved with Expression Web since the first beta of Expression Web 1. I’ve written books and tutorials on it over the years and been involved in conferences and user group presentations. I’d like to say RIP but frankly, I’m too disappointed with Microsoft to do so.
Many of you know that from 2002 to 2010 I was a recipient of the Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) award. What you may not have known is that I asked Microsoft not to consider me for an award in 2011. I did so for a couple of reasons. One was I didn’t like the closed culture that was developing at Microsoft. Microsoft seemed to be changing course, moving towards the same sort of closed eco structure of the Apple/iOS model. I believe that is a mistake. Microsoft’s strength has always been how open its platform has been reaching out to those who want to build upon it.
DEVELOPER, DEVELOPER, DEVELOPER – NOT!!!
Has long been the trademark of Steve Ballmer, with the release of the Expression Studio products it seemed like Microsoft was embracing all developers not just the Windows desktop developer or the .NET developer but all, including the front-end developers.
In 2005-2006 UX/UI was a new watchword at Microsoft. Microsoft had seen the light and realized that no matter how good your code was if people couldn’t use it because it was poorly designed and not discoverable you could not succeed. Microsoft realized that sitting on its arse after it won the browser war with Netscape had seen the rise of stronger competitors as the internet matured. So Microsoft was playing catch-up again and doing what it needed to do to become relevant in the modern era of the web with support for web standards. I thought “maybe Microsoft is ‘getting it’ when it comes to design and web standards after having lost their way for a few years.
Then I saw the beta of Expression Web and went “aahh, they are”, finally a product that as a professional I can use for as a daily production tool. At the time of its release Expression Web had the best CSS tools available. Its ease of use and ability to help people transition from the old style table based layouts with html attributes for presentation made it a joy to use. Here was a program that not only supported .NET but also PHP. Okay, its support for neither was enough for a primarily back-end server side coder but it was enough for someone who was primarily a front-end designer/developer. Over the next three versions Expression Web only got stronger and stronger as a professional tool. Something that amazed people who had always castigated Microsoft for failure to support web standards when I’d show it at conferences, user groups and other speaking engagements. I could take a FrontPage or other WYSIWYG user and have them creating a web standards separation of content from presentation website in a few hours instead of an impossible to maintain mess of hard coded html attributes and deprecated elements. What an important step forward when even a non-pro could turn out quality websites.
By the time Expression Web 4 came out with its new extensibility model it was to quote Morton, “a shining light of what Microsoft could be – an open application focused on real life work regardless of platform or product affinity”.
Today’s announcement signaled the end of any hope of commitment to front-end website designers/developers. The announcement says:
The proliferation of rich interactive web applications across the cloud and mobile devices continues to create new opportunities for creative design and development. As these technologies evolve, Microsoft is committed to providing best-in-class tools for building modern applications. In support of these industry trends Microsoft is consolidating our lead design and development offerings — Expression and Visual Studio — to offer all of our customers a unified solution that brings together the best of Web and modern development patterns.
Not every website is or should be a “rich interactive web application”. Many websites provide information and is not an “application” much less “rich interactive”. With the cost of cellular bandwidth I don’t want high bandwidth applications or websites when all I want to do is check location/address, a telephone number, or do a quick fact check during a conversation or other task.
Sorry Microsoft but you are missing a large segment of the web that is information/brochure oriented. You are also missing that simple is often better than than complex. Your forums are an example of overly complex bloated sites that fail miserably when it comes to usability and function. This isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned problems with your Expression forums, Answer forum, TechNet and MSDN forums. When I visit those forums there is a significant bandwidth hit and they frankly don’t work very well. Simpler forum applications like those used by Modern Vespa or our own ExpressionWebForums.com download quickly, respond to clicks quickly and work across a variety of browsers and platforms without random “unexpected errors”. As a result I don’t visit Microsoft forums when I’m using cellular data or when I’m on devices instead of real computers and no, I don’t want nor will I use an “app” to access forums.
APPS ARE OVER-RATED
Unlike Microsoft I don’t see “the web” as “dead” and that the future is in device/platform specific “apps”. I’ve heard people from Microsoft say that today’s web has reverted to the “old days” of competing standards and incompatible browsers as a reason for abandoning Expression Web and focusing solely on Visual Studio.
Funny, that isn’t my experience.
While it is true that not all browser support every HTML 5 or CSS 3 proposed specification I can write code once and have it work well on Internet Explorer 8+, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome and various device browsers. Visitors might not get the exact same experience but they will all have a usable experience on an attractive functional site. Even those using antique by web terms browsers like Internet Explorer 6 will have a usable functional site without having to load device specific applications. There will certainly be less differences between modern browsers than if using device specific apps.
Like many others I don’t want apps for something that a website does well. Apps give you only what the app developer thinks important from the website. That usually means less features than on the actual website.
Netflix is a good example of this. Devices we watch Netflix on include: iPad, Android based tablet, Win 8 RT app, WII game console, xBox console, Roku, Samsung Blue Ray DVD player. Not one of the device apps gives us access to all the features available at netflix.com. The ability to select and managing our DVD queue and account are available only on computers using a web browser not an app. Frankly, this sort of fragmentation is one of the reasons that I find myself disliking the app approach more and more.
I’m not the only one, over the last 18 months I’ve been seeing and hearing a backlash against apps from people having individual apps pushed on them when they visit websites. Heck, I even hear mutterings at Starbucks from people going “no I don’t want your damned app, just let me see the website” as they stab with their finger at a “no thanks” button on the modal window announcing the “app version”, and “are you really sure you don’t want our app” in response to their first stab trying to close the modal window.
Who really wants to have an app for every website they’ve chosen to visit? True there are some things that an app will always be a better choice such as GPS navigation or many games but for many things a website is simply a better approach AND is platform agnostic. Do you really want an app for every website you’ve visited in the last week? I sure as hell don’t.
Goodbye Cross-Browser Testing with SuperPreview
Yep, that’s another blow to cross browser site development. Effective June 2013 SuperPreview will go away so there will be no cloud service for previewing your site in different versions of Internet Explorer or other platforms like Safari on Macs. Thank goodness for Adobe, pity they will no longer have competition to spur them on to even better tools.