Farewell Expression Web–Microsoft You Lost Me

by cdwise 21. December 2012 10:30

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.

Tags:

Expression Web

Module 2 MS Expression Curriculum

by cdwise 14. January 2011 07:52

Moving on to Module 2 HTML Basics at least the PowerPoint does include common HTML elements and the critical fact that “web sites may appear differently in different browsers” Even though the browser list is still not reflecting the current browser make-up with no mention of the different rendering of IE 6, 7 & 8 or Chome/Opera while still displaying Netscape prominently.

Unfortunately, the first example given for students to copy does not include a single <p> element in the body yet shows as multiple paragraphs in the sample. In addition, as the coding lesson progress deprecated elements and attributes used solely for presentation such as <u> and <body text=”red”> are given as if they should actually be used on your web page.

Heading elements are also explained as a method of altering text size. – This is so wrong I can’t believe it is actually in a class on HTML. <u>, <body body link="#000fff vlink="#00FF00 alink="FF0000>  and other such code is taught. Even when CSS is introduced the use of font-size: 12pt and font-family with only one font listed is very bad practice. This is an actual sample of the code they use:

<body><h1>This is where the heading of the Web page might go.</h1><br>
<h2>This is where the main part of the text would go.</h2>

As is this example from the assignment as the correct way to create a web page:

<html>
<head>
<!--Student Name—>
<title>Hansel and Gretel</title>
<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="mypaStyle.css" />
</head>
<body>
<img src="C:\Documents and Settings\Owner.FAMILYROOM\Desktop\S.2.7.WS_Pic.jpg" height="100" width="150" align=right alt="Our Flag"> (note the align attribute)
<h1 align=center>Hansel and Gretel by the Brothers Grimm</h1>
<h3 align=center>Student Name</h3>
<hr width=90% size=10 color="#0000FF"><br>
<p>"Hansel and Gretel" is known as a fairy tale and was written by the Brothers Grimm.</p>
(snipped remaining paragraphs & links that are outside of paragraphs with br elements) </body>
</html>

Can you believe that the above mark-up is being taught today? Ironically, while the <marquee> tag is one of those being taught the module text document brings up HTML5 in the same discussion as Encarta is given as an additional resource – with a link that leads to this page has been discontinued.

This mix of old, deprecated code and resources with the occasional reference to today’s best practices seems not only an odd mix but also one that will leave students very confused about what they should do. Besides HTML basics should be mastered before the use of web services from Module 1 are even broached.

Tags:

Expression Web | Training

Module 1 MS Expression Web 4 curriculum

by cdwise 14. January 2011 06:51

After this thread http://social.expression.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/web/thread/e648bb8b-47e0-4a9d-8241-d0a0e025116b on teaching Expression Web to students I figured I’d download and look at the curriculum Lori Dirks referenced. After all I hadn’t looked at the MS educational resources for v4.

My first issue was how many steps it took to download the files. Each module was a separate download link and from there it was another 3+ clicks before your download actually started. In addition, after the first few downloads I could only download one set of resources at a time despite being on a 20mps connection. It seemed to be a server issue waiting for the MS server to respond.

Starting with the overview pdf I noticed the same links were in there over and over after each module summary. I’m not sure why someone thought it was necessary. The way it was presented and the length of the links caused me to think each link was related to the module it followed not to the same two pages over and over.

They syllabus looked pretty good but my initially favorable impression went away when I opened Module 1, Day 1 to discover Photo Story 3 for Windows as the first lesson. My disappoint stemmed not from the use of Photo Story for storyboarding a website (which might after all be a reasonable thing to do) but because it starts off with import your photos, remove the black border, add titles & music.  I have no clue what the relevance of creating a slide show to playback on your computer has to do with the stated topic of Module 1 History and Future of the Web. I can only conclude, particularly from other references within the file that this was included by mistake or at least I would have if the Word doc didn’t start with that exact title followed by Day 1.

Upon opening more pages in module 1 I see that the assignment was to create a multimedia presentation using Photo Story about wikis, blogs, podcasts & webcast with the option to include Web 2.0 topics.

The PowerPoint presentation used to actually provide the lesson material seems to me to be very out of date for an application that was released summer 2010. The latest browser statistics given were for 2003. Market share is shown for Netscape (3.7%), IE 95.9% and “others” (0.4%) which is so completely out of date as to be worse than useless. Browsers such as Firefox (depending on your site topic & location 20-55% market share), Safari, Opera and Chrome each have more market share than the total “other” browsers listed. IE 7 & 8 which have considerably different rendering characteristics from IE 6 weren’t even a gleam on the horizon back in 2003. The site used as a reference for those statistics “onstat.com” leads me now to a page full of advertising that looks like a domain placeholder page. Looking at the W3Schools browser stats page I see a different picture for 2003 with IE having 84.6%, Mozilla 7.2%, Netscape 2.6% and Opera 1.9%. For 2002 the IE percentage is about the same but Netscape was 8.0% and AOL (which depending on exactly when used a custom version of Netscape or IE) at 3-5%.

On the whole though the PowerPoint presentation did contain useful information if someone just removes or updates the browser stats slide. Though using blue links on a blue background is simply idiotic. Sorry but even on my color calibrated monitor there is such low contrast as to make the links virtually invisible. Putting it up on a projector would be even worse. Web 2.0 is of the same vintage as the browser information and has been superseded by “social media” in the Facebook & Twitter mode which is quite different than Web 2.0 social media. I also had to look up what “Freemium Business Model” means since it wasn’t a term I had really heard before. I’d always known that model as “advertising supported” and/or tiered services.

The only other comment I have on the slide deck is that the person using it really needs to be able to flesh out the bullet points with actual knowledge and discussion of what those bullets mean.

Day 2 & Day 3 do contain useful information, particularly the section on copyright. Too many classes don’t adequately address that everything you see on the internet is copyrighted by the site holder or whoever it is that is credit with the article/content. Permission is always needed though in a few cases the article or site itself will grant you permission to use it. So I am glad to see that covered.

Day 4 concentrates on MS Live services, something that I do not think is appropriate at this stage for students. While I have no objection to using Live services like Live Writer or Calendar why services like Live Agent or Windows Live Share (Live Sync?) are included I have no clue. Frankly, I don’t see the benefit to students or even to MS at this point in the curriculum. Ironically, the most useful thing in the Day 4 PowerPoint is the “Practice” instruction to Complete the Web Services tutorial at the W3Schools site but even that is premature. You shouldn’t be concerned about web services until you can actually create a website nor should they be concerned about creating a podcast at this stage of their learning either, especially one with background music nor if the idea is to learn about creating websites is creating a Live blog the thing to do at this time.

Day 5 seems to be somewhat of an overview of the week with the activity set to narrow searches. This week of lessons leaves me very confused about what it is the person is supposed to be learning.

Module 2 review coming up soon.

Tags:

Expression Web | Training

SuperPreview 4

by cdwise 15. September 2010 02:01

If you have the Expression Web 4 version of SuperPreview it has been updated to add support for Safari 5 (Mac) so now you can choose either Safari 4 or Safari 5 for previewing through the  cloud.

I just used it to check http://expressionwebforum.com/ and could see no differences between the Safari (either version) and IE 8 that aren’t attributable to  the fact that I’m logged in automatically with IE 8 locally and not with remote preview so the login panel is open in Safari & not in IE 8.

Now that they have updated Safari’s remote preview options maybe they’ll add some other browser. I’d like to see IE 9 beta, Firefox 4 and Chrome. What would you like to see added?

Tags:

Expression Web | v4 | Web Browsers

Web Developer vs Web Designer

by cdwise 9. September 2010 19:25

I have a Google alert set up for when Expression Web & web design. Today I received an interesting blurb and link that I followed to the blog it originated in. While the blog post turned out to be interlaced with spam links (so I won’t link to it) it did have some commentary that I felt needed to be addressed on the topic of what is a web developer and what is a web designer.

I basically agree with the definition presented of a web developer:

Quite simply, a web developer is a kind of software engineer, one that conceives, develops and runs applications that support the operation of the World Wide Web. Generally speaking, these types of programs deliver a particular server’s content to a client or end-user through a web browser.

Though I do not agree with the part of the author’s definition that claims that web developers have major industry certifications from from Novell, Cisco, Microsoft and Oracle. Since the vast majority of web developers I know do not have such certifications and certainly not from Novell or Cisco which are primarily network infrastructure certifications. You will find a very small minority of web developers are Microsoft Certified Solution Developers, MS SQL, Oracle DBA or MySQL DBA but that you really don’t see too many DBA (Database Administrators) actually working as web developers.

The author did have a good definition of web designer but he omitted the graphics skills that go along with his definition:

Web designers need to understand the behavior of the various pieces that go into a page, site and domain, not from an infrastructure level, but the perceptual level. A designer needs to put herself in the place of Internet surfers and understand how they “see” and navigate their way around the web. This understanding will inform her choices as to how she puts together the pages, links them to others and creates the overall environment, making disparate parts into one coherent whole.

Which is part of what was in the blurb Google sent me that made me follow the original link.

Web developers are not designers, as pointed out previously, but often are familiar with the high-end web design software programs like Front Page, Adobe Dreamweaver and Expression Web 2. Web designers, of course, are not only familiar with these, but have the full range of creative applications in their toolboxes-Photoshop, paint programs, Illustrator, word processors, the whole chi straightening irons collection. They need to manipulate images, colors, text and other elements to create the look, feel and actions that web visitors expect on the Internet.

Dreamweaver & Expression Web 4 are tools not web development tools even though each has some limited amount of back-end coding support. In the case of Dreamweaver that is PHP & ColdFusion while for Expression Web that is ASP.NET and PHP. No real web developer would use either one for web development on the back-end. Instead they would use a PHP IDE, Eclipse or PHP (depending on their preferred language).

Dreamweaver & Expression Web are used by web designers who need to understand how browsers work and work with front-end code by which I mean HTML, CSS & JavaScript. The web designer has to work with the visual elements of the page which means they also have to understand graphics, design and usability. This is what differentiates a web designer from a graphics designer who needs many of the same graphics skills but also needs the skills for print which is a completely different media.

Tags:

Dreamweaver | Expression Web | Web Design



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