Expression Web is Microsoft’s successor to FrontPage. It’s part of the Expression Studio, which also includes Expression Design, Expression Media and Expression Blend, but is currently the only full product released. It lines up fair and square against Adobe Dreamweaver but is more standards-based than the ex-Macromedia product.
Expression Web is designed to make the most of ASP.Net but is happy to work with straight XHTML and is at home with Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). In fact, given Microsoft’s history with FrontPage, it’s quite a departure. FrontPage was more of a hand-holder and was, in some ways, reluctant to show HTML to the web designer. Instead it preferred to steer them towards a DTP way of working. The new program works by default with a two-pane, graphics and code paradigm (as Dreamweaver does) that tightly relates hard code to objects on the page so you can see the results of your edits as soon as you make them – WYSIWYG as some like to say.
To run Expression Web, you need to have Windows XP SP2 or Windows Server 2003 SP1 as a minimum, along with .NET Framework 2 if it’s not already installed. The main editing screen is a mixture of Dreamweaver and Office. The editing panes have toolbars at the top, mimicking something out of Word, and are bordered by palettes of CSS and tag properties with Adobe-style, diagonal-cut tabs.
Expression Web isn’t a tool for the beginner. There are no drawing tools or easy drag and drop positioning. The supplied website templates are basic and you’re pretty soon left to your own devices. This is when you need to turn to the DVD-based training which, while a bit over-enthusiastically American for UK tastes, does cover a lot of useful material and several techniques specific to Expression Web. For example, selecting the target for a hyperlink is hidden behind a ‘Function’ button in the hyperlink dialog, which is by no means obvious.