What's Different in Expression Web Beta 1

What's Different in Expression Web Beta 1

Rate This
  • Comments 29

Typically, when Microsoft develops a product, it releases a collection of Community Technology Previews (CTPs) and betas to allow customers to see what kinds of features have been added to the product over the course of the development cycle. Expression Web, previously called Expression Web Designer, is no exception to this, and we recently released the first beta for our product. Unlike other releases though, you will see that one of the big differences between this beta and our previous CTP is that we have been busy removing, rather than adding features. We know that this is not the usual path for a product team, and it is often the case that when you see features pulled from a release, it is because the product team is running behind schedule. In this case, though, we are removing these features because you, our customers, have provided us feedback that some of our features were not appropriate for a high-end, standards compliant web design tool. I know that this is not something you typically expect from Microsoft, so I wanted to take the opportunity to explain.

So, what is being removed? Basically, we are removing features that rely on the presence of Front Page Server Extensions (FPSE) for rendering your website correctly.

FPSE actually plays two distinct roles for Microsoft’s HTML editors. The first is the role you may already be familiar with: FPSE communicates with your web server to download and upload files. This part of FPSE also makes link fix-up work. This is not the feature we are removing. Expression Web will continue to support the ability to use FPSE as a way to connect to your web server and perform link fix-up.

What we are removing from Expression Web is the second FPSE role: those features known as “bots” that use FPSE as a server-side scripting system. These bots, which we carried over into Expression Web from FrontPage, include things like Themes, Shared Borders, the Photo Gallery and the Hit Counter. In this role, FPSE takes web pages that have special markup in them - HTML comments that have a well-defined format - and uses the markup to generate a more complex set of HTML.

Note: Even though there are bots that don’t require FPSE on your server (because FrontPage and Expression Web contained an embedded version of FPSE), bots as a whole have significant issues and, for reasons that will be explained below, we are deprecating them.

Why did we do this, and what does mean for existing FrontPage customers that use bots? Let me explain...

A challenge for Expression Web

When the Expression Web team at Microsoft first started planning, we had a dilemma.  On one hand, we wanted Expression Web to be a modern web design tool taking advantage of the latest standards and targeting professional web designers. On the other hand, we knew that with FrontPage going away, Expression Web would be the primary web design tool from Microsoft. While the FrontPage market consisted mainly of consumers, hobbyists and small businesses rather than professional designers, we have a responsibility to these customers and we didn’t want to leave them high and dry.

This left us with a number of questions: How similar should we make the user interfaces?  How much of FrontPage's feature set should we support?  Some of these questions were easy to answer, and we quickly settled on an approach that would achieve the following goals:

  • We would use naming and terminology that was consistent with FrontPage when it did not interfere with our goal of creating a home for professional web designers on the Microsoft platform.
  • We would use menus and other UI artifacts that were consistent with FrontPage when it did not interfere with our goal of creating a home for professional web designers on the Microsoft platform.
  • While keeping the above in mind, we would make big investments in creating a standards-focused editor that was optimized for professional designers.

This was a good start, but even after setting these ground rules, we were left with the following question: How much of the old FrontPage feature set, particularly bots like Navigation, Shared Borders and Themes, should Expression Web support?  On one hand supporting these features would help users with existing FrontPage sites move over to Expression Web. On the other hand, these features were not necessarily attractive to professional designers.  Some of the problems with these features include:

  • Some of these features, like the Photo Gallery only work correctly with Internet Explorer.
  • Some of these features, like the Photo Gallery, do not generate the kind of high-quality content that designers expect.
  • Some of these features, like the Hit Counter, do not provide designers with the kind of stylistic control they require.
  • Many of these features were tied to FrontPage Server Extensions, so that your content would not render if you tried to use your website on a server that did not have these extensions.

Layering: An initial solution

Our initial solution to this issue – the one you saw in our CTP – can be thought of as the 'layering approach'.  In this solution we would incorporate nearly all of the existing FrontPage features into Expression Web for maximum compatibility. On top of this, we would add new features which were more focused on the professional designer, things like rich support for Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) and great design-time visualizations.  This approach was nice because it would allow us to move our focus toward professional designers while still leaving room for the existing FrontPage customer base. However, this solution was not the best option based on feedback from designers who worked with our CTP, and because these features could leave you with a website that only rendered correctly on a web server that had FPSE installed.

As a part of creating Expression Web, we wanted to show professional designers more respect. We believe professional designers are folks who feel that the design experience – how something looks and how you interact with it matters. Our ultimate goal is to build the kind of interface designers love to use, an interface that inspires creativity. FrontPage might have worked best with FPSE, but we wanted to be sure Expression Web provided an excellent experience whether you use FPSE or not. Ultimately this issue is not about technology or about functionality, it’s about trust. One of the reasons I joined the Expression team was to help Microsoft build trust with the designer community, and part of that is letting you make the decisions on how to build your sites or where to deploy them. This is why we are deprecating bots and investing heavily (and will continue to invest) in our support for using FTP and other non-proprietary protocols for communicating with web servers.

Upgrading: Our Expression Web path

We went back to the drawing board and came up with the 'upgrade' approach, which you will see in our next CTP release.  It consists of three main tenets:

  • In sites that don’t use bots, hide any Expression Web features that refer to them. In other words, FPSE bot features in Expression Web disappear if the web page you are working on doesn’t already use them.
  • Help the existing FrontPage community make the transition toward more modern standards-based web design techniques.
  • Provide a minimum level of support possible for pages that already have bots: you won’t find a way to add things like Shared Borders or FrontPage Themes to a website, but web pages or websites that already have these features will continue to render correctly.

This approach has two benefits: If you are an existing FrontPage user who is interested in moving into the world of modern, standards-based web design, then you should find Expression Web to be a familiar environment in which you can be productive very quickly. On the other hand, if you are a new customer to Microsoft (with respect to web design tools) then you should find that Expression Web is a design-oriented, professionally focused web editor that is uncompromising in its support for creating standards-based web sites.

We are aware, though, that this will cause pain for those existing FrontPage users that do not fall into these groups. Ultimately, we believe that your best solution may well be moving into a more managed web environment like SharePoint, where the vagaries of html and standards compliance will not impact you. If you are one of the people in this situation, I hope that you understand why we made this decision. If not, well, my email address is Erik.Saltwell@microsoft.com

Erik Saltwell - Development Manager, Expression Web

Leave a Comment
  • Please add 1 and 3 and type the answer here:
  • Post
  • While I fully appreciate and applaud deprecating anything that needs FP extensions or a "non standard" server, there are some bots in FP that did not use them, such as include pages and date stamps.

    What was the purpose of deprecating those also?
  • You say...

    "In sites that don’t use bots, hide any Expression Web features that refer to them.  In other words, FPSE bot features in Expression Web disappear if the web page you are working on doesn’t already use them."

    However you have not mentioned the special case of 'FrontPage Includes'. I'm using Beta 1 I have 'FrontPage Includes in use and there is no bot feature available for this. It has been said by MS employees that 'FP Includes' are a special case and that they will be available as either a third party addon or macro or from the ms addon centre.

    The current workaround is to use a snippet, double click and the box will appear so one can use it. (Devised by Cheryl Wise) Great workaround but a little clunky as it means going to Code view and for the newbie's a gentler approach is needed.

    Can you talk more about FrontPage Includes... they are needed for a couple of reasons, They work better than SSI, they don't need fpse on the server to work, one can see the results in design view on the hd, they are needed for sites that don't use dwt's and they are needed for sites that use dwts and that require a vertical in-depth menu.

    We would like to know what is going to happen with 'FrontPage Includes' ... or a better name Design Time Includes

    Thanks

    Tina
  • Thank you for starting this blog – I’m sure it will be very active over the next few months as you get closer to RTM. I do wish you would change the skin, though.  The white on brown is very hard on the eyes.  :-)

    And I would also like to thank you for keeping the site management and link fix-up functions that we all have depended on heavily. The best thing that FrontPage had going for it was its ability to manage the web management and publishing experience. It updated hyperlinks when you needed it to, and it knew which files to upload, so you didn't have to keep track.

    While I agree with your reasons for eliminating most of the legacy webbots, I have to protest (again) the removal of the Include Component.

    In many cases, a site can be reworked to use DWTs instead of Includes, but not in all cases. Designers use Includes to repeat content (not navigation) throughout their site.

    The Include Component is a Design-time component and does not require that the server extensions be installed on the target server.  

    The HTML generated by the Include Component is valid (standards compliant) when sent through the HTML Validator at the W3C.

    The use of SSIs will not be a viable option for many people. Not everyone develops locally in a server based environment, and SSIs do not render in Design Mode – you have to save your changes and preview in a web browser to see what the page will look like.

    Please take another look at the reasons for this decision – I know a lot of people would appreciate it.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Interesting that in the three posts so far, we are all saying the same thing about Includes and this is the only feedback so far. This seems to be an indicator or sorts? I agree on the background it's hard to read.

    BTW I realise those with savvy on the team will not have been voting to keep page transitions ...whose bright idea was it keep those? They are on the level of hit counters and hover buttons. Substitution has also gone, and while I can live without it, it was useful.  Why not put together a javascript for behaviours for the time stamp? A lot of these bits and peices could be used for javascript, it would be nice to be able to include our own behaviours in there instead of having to use snippets. Also why keep the layout tools which generate all that extra code? While I'm about it I'd like to know why the thumbnail feature has to generate

    <!-- MSComment="autothumbnail" xthumbnail-orig-image="images/snip.bmp" -->

    Just putting it behind comment tags to make it validate (I noticed that changed from ctp to beta1 ) does not make it right. Did version previous to 03 do this? I've not got the older versions put back (after the first ctp wiped em) to check. The code is not needed once the thumbnail is done. Now other third party apps don't need to generate the extra code why does ew? However at least it does validate thanks to the comment tags but its clunky.... clunky is NOT good, EW should be elegant.

    Tina
  • "In many cases, a site can be reworked to use DWTs instead of Includes, but not in all cases. Designers use Includes to repeat content (not navigation) throughout their site...."

    Well, even then - not really.

    In EW you are limited to ONE DWT - they won't stack. So if you want includes only on some pages, you are back to using code snippets, which is far from an ideal solution.

    And I have to agree also with page transitions - does anyone past the free website personal page stage actually USE those?

    The two things that were most useful to me - the Navigation and includes were dropped in favor of THAT ... EWWWW yuck!
  • I can't agree with navigation bots, you have no real control over what appears and are limited to the scenerios it give. They don't validate and they use extra code. The main problem is the lack of control, by using includes, you can make accessbile navigation with little maintenance, which is my main criteria for using them.

    Without a dwt in use they are (includes) essential also for repetative content such as headers and footers if one wants to cut down on chores.
    Tina

  • Please, by all means retain Includes (s/b Design-Time Includes - as per Tina), and why not keep subsitution, and the Time (Date) Stamp, w/ some extended functionality?  All are  fundamental to building clean, modular code, and shouldn't have to be added-on.
    Includes are invaluable for Designers (intended users?) working in their (perhaps local) invironment to be able to visualize their work before, hand off to a team of Builders in an almost definitely, server-based environment. Perhaps an over-sight, please remove the Page Transition from the menu.  I think ALL the other bots should go!  Steal the Auto-Hide windows code from one of the VS teams for Task Panes. EW can/is going to be an excellent WYSIWYG product for standards-based Webs but that means ideally having most of the screen real estate devoted to the WYSIWYG area. Regular, almost constant use of the Task Panes such as Apply Styles, Manage Styles, Tool Box, and Folder List are almost constantly needed to use the application. It is very difficult to expand and shrink the Task Panes, and if left expanded, they encroach on the WYSIWYG area, distorting its appearance due to horizontal compression.  This has the net effect of forcing the user to have to preview ALL of their work in an external browser because the WYSIWYG functionallity is essentially lost, UNLESS Auto-Hide Task Panes are encorporated into EW!  The are some highly-placed members of this community that repeatedly speak of doing work in the 'code window' (glorified text editor), and I firmly believe that Visual Web Developer has a spectacular 'code window'.  Right now it is superior to EW for finding and fixing standards problems with both CSS and HTML in older web sites, but its WYSIWYG functionallity leaves a lot to be desired.  I like what you are trying to do with EW, so I even gave DWTs a try even though they aren't my first choice.  The good news, EW ran for about 8 hours straight until I built a DWT and tested it. It then locked up and 'phoned home' with a rather large report! Thanks for your time and consideration.

    Michael Rose
  • Everyone,  thanks for all the great feedback and comments!  I hope to post another blog entry today in response.
  • We are pleased to announce that the Beta 1 release of Expression Web (formerly Expression Web Designer)...
  • A couple of questions:
    1.  Using ftp to publish:  What happens with shared content such as borders and includes.
    They will not update properly when publishing via ftp. Result, broken web.

    2.  Metadata files.  Since the metadata ( vti files ) is being removed from the server and
    stored in the %UserProfile% section
    of the drive, what happens for example, when I log on to a site to make changes with a
    laptop when traveling, and the laptop has never
    had the web published to it or edited by it.  With no metadata on the server, changes to
    DWT's / Master pages will not propagate to all
    pages that use them.
  • What to do to get Expression Web Beta 1 running on Windows Vista RC1?
  • Though I am a bit late in the comment about includes, let me again note the obvious:

    1) they are not about server side processing

    2) they do not violate any web standards of any kind anywhere

    3) they are about content management

    4) they have serious uses totally unrelated to "navigation"

    5) they have serious uses that cannot be duplicated by DWTs or any other tool

    6) they do not require server hosted FrontPage Server Extensions

    7) that they are "bots" is irrelevant to the discussion (again, because bots implemented within an authoring system, using standard comments, do not violate any web standards of any kind anywhere

    8) the competition has similar functions and if EW doesn't, it makes EW less competitive, less "professional" and less capable; this will encourage current FP users to investigate the competition and will delay other users from adopting EW

    9) they work

    Please help all of us make this issue go away. Find a way to put them back.

    James S. Huggins
    aka Mr. Include
  • Michael Rose wrote:
    [quote]
    Steal the Auto-Hide windows code from one of the VS teams for Task Panes. EW can/is going to be an excellent WYSIWYG product for standards-based Webs but that means ideally having most of the screen real estate devoted to the WYSIWYG area. Regular, almost constant use of the Task Panes such as Apply Styles, Manage Styles, Tool Box, and Folder List are almost constantly needed to use the application. It is very difficult to expand and shrink the Task Panes, and if left expanded, they encroach on the WYSIWYG area, distorting its appearance due to horizontal compression.  This has the net effect of forcing the user to have to preview ALL of their work in an external browser because the WYSIWYG functionallity is essentially lost, UNLESS Auto-Hide Task Panes are encorporated into EW!
    [end quote]

    Let me echo that. For some of us old codgers over fifty, the use of dual monitors, each 5,120 x 3,840 pixels is not a real option. Pull down menus and pop-up panels --- whatever their faults --- were usable. Auto-Hide Task Panes can move EW toward that same fundamental measure of usability

    James S. Huggins
    An Old Codger
  • Pointing to this blog.

    After poking around I realize that my comment about includes (above) was probably unnecessary. I did not see the notes about this because the page at http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/web_designer/wd_free_trial.aspx points to http://blogs.msdn.com/xweb/archive/2006/09/09/747051.aspx instead of pointing to http://blogs.msdn.com/xweb/default.aspx.

    My suggestion is to change http://www.microsoft.com/products/expression/en/web_designer/wd_free_trial.aspx to point to http://blogs.msdn.com/xweb/default.aspx

    James S. Huggins
  • Erik, Anna, et. al,

    Would you please elaborate on the changes in XML and XSLT between the CTP and Beta 1? There appear to be substantial changes and I've been seeing quite a few questions on using XML in Expression Web. Especially in regards to web.sitemap and the navigation controls in ASP.NET.

    How to migrate from FrontPage navigation bots to a more standards oriented replacement is one of those issues that are very important for those who are updating.

    Cheryl D Wise
Page 1 of 2 (29 items) 12