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Microsoft's Expression Web Designer vs. Adobe's Dreamweaver

First look: Let the rumble begin. By Matthew David

Over the last year, a new phrase has been used in the press and at conferences: Web 2.0. The term has come to represent the new era of Web technologies offered to designers, developers, and interactive artists. This new age is built on standards. There are design standards, such as Cascading Style Sheets; meta data standards, such as XHMTL; data transfer standards, such as XML; and accessibility standards for the visually impaired. Design tools for the Web artist are needed to support these standards.

For the last nine years one tool has dominated the Web design world: Dreamweaver. Now, Microsoft is poised to release a competitor. We looked at the latest beta release (CTP), released at the end of last week, to examine what they're prepared to deliver.

Standards have always been a part of Dreamweaver. The problem is that, over the last decade and a half, the standards have changed. HTML 2.0, lead to HTML 3.2, which in turn became HTML 4.0 and now is XHTML -- you can also throw in changes for style management with Cascading Style Sheets, scripting (how many different variations of Javascript can we support?) and specializations in the Web browsers themselves. The bottom line is that Dreamweaver has attempted to support too many legacy standards. The result is a bloody mess.



What is needed is a tool that designers can use to create eye-catching Web experiences, and still retain support for standards such as CSS and XHTML. This balance is hard to achieve, largely because the standards themselves can be difficult to understand and interpret correctly. Simple things -- such as adding ALT tag information to all images -- can be easily missed, but including them is essential for accessibility standards. Target.com recently forgot to fill in the ALT tag information, and they are now being sued by a group of people who claim that the company's lack of support for accessibility prevented them from trading with Target. Non-compliance, it appears, has a price tag.

The balance between supporting standards and allowing your designer creative freedom is delicate and hard to achieve. To date, the only Web designers tool that has effectively been able to allow artists creative freedom and build a site on standards is Adobe's Dreamweaver. But, hang on, Microsoft thinks they have an answer, too. The newly released Expression Web Designer is a tool for the designer that is built on standards.

And, let's be clear on this, Expression Web Designer ain't no pretty version of FrontPage; it is a tool that poses a serious threat to Adobe's dominance in the Web market.

David vs. Goliath -- or is it the other way round?
When you talk of Battles Royale with Microsoft and its competing companies, Microsoft is usually portrayed as Goliath beating up poor little David and unceremoniously spitting out the bones before moving onto the next target. In the battle of the Web design tools, the situation is a little different. First, while Microsoft is a $225 billion company, Adobe is no small start-up. Remember, Adobe just swallowed up Macromedia, the pioneering company that created Dreamweaver in the first place. In addition, Adobe's Dreamweaver is the incumbent tool used by over a million graphics artists. I have been using Dreamweaver since beta 1 of version 1. Is Microsoft really the David in this story?

The only way in which these two products can square off against each other is to look at their strengths and weaknesses as individual products.
 

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Related Keywords:Web design, software development, dreamweaver, expression, Microsoft, adobe, macromedia, comparison, art, web 2.0, visual studio, frontpage

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