Q&A: Microsoft Unveils Next Generation of Web Authoring and Design Tools

REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 15, 2006 – As the Internet becomes an increasingly valuable environment for individuals and organizations to share information, collaborate and carry out tasks, the people tasked with building Web sites to support these activities need increasingly powerful and versatile tools to accomplish their goals.

Having adopted technologies such as Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003 to help create, manage and build collaborative Web sites, many organizations are discovering that their current Web-authoring tools lack support for the latest standards and capabilities that SharePoint products and technologies makes possible – such as ready access to data coming from multiple outside sources and the capacity to build no-code, powerful applications and automated workflows. Professional Web site designers also are feeling the pressure to deliver more dynamic and interactive user experiences, and to create sites more rapidly and cost-efficiently.

In response to these diverse demands, Microsoft is introducing a new tool, Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007, for building SharePoint applications and designing SharePoint sites. This new product – part of the full 2007 Microsoft Office lineup announced today – will join Microsoft Expression Web Designer, the next-generation tool for designing dynamic, standard-based Web sites, to deliver a complete set of tools for Web design and development. Both products are currently in initial beta testing. Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer is scheduled for release in the second half of this year at a suggested retail price of US$299 through retail and Microsoft Volume Licensing channels. Pricing and availability details for Microsoft Expression Web Designer will be announced in the near future.

PressPass recently asked John Richards, director of Windows SharePoint Services at Microsoft, to describe how these new products fit into the company’s overall approach to Web authoring technologies.

PressPass: What challenges and demands on today’s Web designers require different and better technology tools?

Richards: One area of concern we’re hearing from customers is that most Web site tools today are designed to create standardized sites that don’t fit an individual company’s unique requirements. Thus, the site design that most tools offer is duplicated across the Web. Business groups must rely on their IT professionals to modify or enhance the standard designs, and these IT pros demand Web standards support so sites can be viewed across browsers. Professional Web site designers also are feeling the pressure to deliver more dynamic and interactive user experiences, and to create sites more rapidly and cost-efficiently.

Another frequent complaint is that it takes too long to build Web sites and applications using most tools because they require Web designers to do a lot of coding as part of this process. Also, developing business processes is time consuming and difficult due to a lack of automation.

PressPass: Why is Microsoft offering two separate products to meet these Web design needs?

Richards: While both products are partially based on Microsoft Office FrontPage technologies, they are tailored to very different usage scenarios. We have built SharePoint Designer 2007 expressly for information workers in an enterprise who are creating and customizing Microsoft SharePoint Web sites and building workflow-enabled applications on SharePoint Products and Technologies. It provides these workers with versatile tools to produce more interactive Web pages that incorporate data from a wide variety of sources, as well as enable business processes and create powerful reporting tools on the SharePoint platform. SharePoint Designer 2007 also allows the IT department to closely manage all of these activities so that employees ultimately can more productively build and customize SharePoint sites and applications.

Expression Web Designer is focused on the needs of professional Web designers seeking to build high-quality, standards-based Web sites for companies. It provides exceptional support for integrating XML, CSS, ASP.NET 2.0, XHTML and other standard Web technologies into sites to make them more dynamic, interactive and accessible. Teams of designers using Expression Web Designer and developers using Microsoft Visual Studio will benefit from numerous integrated features that allow them to collaborate on the design and development of content and applications.

Microsoft is now truly able to deliver a comprehensive family of Web authoring products for the diverse needs of our existing Microsoft Office FrontPage customers.

PressPass: What is happening to the current FrontPage product, and how is Microsoft communicating with FrontPage users to alleviate concerns about migration, ongoing technical support and the like?

Richards: After we fully release SharePoint Designer 2007 and Expression Web Designer, FrontPage will be discontinued gradually. This process will bring our customers and partners a broader choice of tools that go far beyond the capabilities within the current FrontPage product to meet the needs of today’s and tomorrow’s Web authors, designers and developers.

In the meantime, Microsoft will continue to provide current FrontPage customers with full product support through June 2008, as well as clear guidance on how they can smoothly migrate to SharePoint Designer 2007 or Expression Web Designer, depending on their roles and needs. In the near future, all registered Microsoft Office FrontPage customers will receive e-mail from Microsoft outlining our overall strategy and roadmap for these next-generation Web authoring tools. We also will provide continual updates on the Microsoft Office product Web site. In addition, current FrontPage customers in both the retail and enterprise channels will be able to take advantage of special upgrade offers starting in the second half of 2006.

PressPass: What are some of the most exciting new capabilities in SharePoint Designer 2007?

Richards: SharePoint Designer 2007 is specifically designed to help people create and customize Web sites and workflows built with SharePoint Products and Technologies, such as Microsoft Windows SharePoint Services and Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. It provides all the tools that IT professionals and solution creators need to develop SharePoint-based applications and workflow solutions that enhance organizational agility and business process automation. Coupled with the other SharePoint-enabled applications in the 2007 release of the Microsoft Office System, SharePoint Designer 2007 will help make it easier than ever for individuals and teams to collaborate effectively.

With SharePoint Designer 2007, users can design SharePoint workflows and applications without having to use traditional procedural coding languages or techniques. Instead, SharePoint Designer 2007 provides easy-to-use tools that can enable Web design professionals to build conditional views and forms with validation as well as the capability to read, write and present data from a variety of data sources – such as eXxtensible Markup Language (XML) files, SQL databases such as Microsoft SQL Server 2005, and Web services. SharePoint Designer 2007 also enables them to compile data from multiple sources to create flexible, customized views and reports, and build Web part pages and connect Web parts to create sophisticated business applications.

In addition, SharePoint Designer 2007 makes it easy to create and modify rules-based workflow applications using drop-down lists and checkboxes. The software also provides an intuitive environment for quickly creating and customizing SharePoint sites and applications using the power of ASP.NET, the eXxtensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML), and industry-standard cascading style sheets (CSS). Plus, Microsoft IntelliSense technologies help eliminate errors when working with CSS, ASP.NET and XHTML tags.

Lastly, it allows site administrators and IT managers to control exactly how information workers interact with the SharePoint site and applications, ensuring that they do so in a way that complies with IT policies and procedures. This includes defining what kinds of content they can add, change, or delete; where they can make such changes; whether they can make changes to master pages and CSS; whether they can access the code view; and more.

PressPass: What are the key capabilities of Expression Web Designer?

Richards: Microsoft Expression Web Designer provides a professional tool for producing high-quality, standard-based Web sites in precisely the ways that designers today want to work. It enables the user to dynamically design, develop, and maintain exceptional standards-based Web sites.

The software features a flexible workspace that provides easy access to professional Web designers’ most heavily used task panes, toolbars and controls. Expression Web Designer is designed to give users precise control over style editing and design commands, such as direct manipulation of positioning, sizing and padding within CSS page layouts. Designers can readily incorporate standard XML data to make their Web pages more usable and expressive. They gain full support for ASP.NET 2.0, no-code data binding, Master Pages, and an array of server and user controls in a single tool for integrating dynamic applications into their Web sites. Built-in compatibility and accessibility checkers also help ensure that a site created in Expression Web Designer will render properly in any browser.

With the product’s deep support for ASP.NET, which is Microsoft’s platform for building Web applications, site designers can create highly sophisticated and interactive sites that typically have required the server coding expertise of a Web developer. In addition, this ASP.NET support makes it much easier for developers and design professionals to work side by side on these types of projects, where the developer is working in Visual Studio and the designer is working in Expression Web Designer.

PressPass: What have you heard so far from Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) and others who are beta-testing Expression Web Designer and SharePoint Designer 2007?

Richards: Since they only received the first beta versions a few weeks ago, our MVPs are still in the initial stages of evaluation. However, some of our MVPs who have been working with Expression Web Designer over the past few weeks say they are thrilled with the product’s standards-based support, its ease of use and the extent to which it enables them to customize a SharePoint site. They’ve also praised the Workflow Designer tools within SharePoint Designer 2007 as one of the product’s standout features.

We also expect many of these early testers to provide some very valuable suggestions for refining both products in subsequent versions.

PressPass: What’s next on the horizon for Microsoft’s evolving approach to Web-authoring and design technologies?

Richards: We will continue to develop new and better capabilities across all of the SharePoint Technologies, including Windows SharePoint Services, the Office server products and SharePoint Designer 2007. We’re always seeking ways to make these products even more competitive and attractive for enterprise information workers as well as IT managers. Also, the features we are delivering with Expression Web Designer are only one part of Microsoft’s huge commitment to meeting the demands of Web design professionals. Our customers and partners will get a much better sense of how we are evolving the familiar capabilities of FrontPage when we release the beta 2 version of SharePoint Portal Designer, which is planned in the first half of 2006.

We will also continue investing heavily in advancements for ASP.NET 2.0 as well as deeper integration of Expression Web Designer and SharePoint Designer 2007 with Visual Studio to provide a rich foundation for building all types of Web applications. That’s really where we see the future heading – developers, designers and information workers collaborating more fully than ever on a unified platform with compatible tools that enable them to maximize the power of the Web.

Web designers and others who attend the MIX 06 conference in Las Vegas from March 20-22 will hear Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chairman and chief software architectect, discuss Microsoft’s strategic approach to the next generation of Web applications. MIX is a new event created expressly for Web developers and designers to explore the opportunities available today on the Microsoft platform. It should be an exciting show, a great way to interact with fellow designers and a valuable chance to evaluate the latest builds of upcoming technology releases.

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