Review: Expressions Web | WebReference

Review: Expressions Web

Review: Expressions Web


I'm generally skeptical about WYSIWYG editors, even when they have a "code view." I'm also quite hesitant about Microsoft editors, especially with the extra code they usually throw in. Microsoft recently launched a new editor package called "Expression Web." According to its Web site, FrontPage will be discontinued and this is its replacement. Let's take the new kid for a test drive and see if Expressions Web is different than its predecessor.

(I want to preface this review by stating that I've never personally used FrontPage. (I use the NoteTab Pro text editor for all my design, development, and writing work.) I've only had to deal with cleaning up the mess that FrontPage has left behind, both in abundant extraneous code and the problems it creates for new Web developers.)

Expressions Web is billed as being able to "configure flexible schema settings to support all combinations of HTML, XHTML, strict, transitional, frameset and CSS 1.0, 2.0, and 2.1 plus browser-specific schemas." For a company that makes a browser that has major W3C compatibility issues, that's quite a statement. It's part of a suite of tools for Web development, much like Microsoft's Office suite.

First Steps

To use the software you need to install Microsoft's .NET Framework 2.0. Also, If you're downloading it from Microsoft's Web site, the program itself is 195.8 MB so it may take some time, depending upon your connection. (The Web site says the download time for a 56Kb connection is 7 hours and 58 minutes!) The installation is simple, though it takes a bit of time. Nevertheless, I was soon up and running without any problems.

The opening screen is pretty standard with this type of editor. It consists of task panes on each side of the editing screen, which is in the center. The panes can be moved around to customize the editor to suit your preferences.

The editing screen can display the page in three different modes. In Design mode, the page is shown as it will be displayed on the Web, in a WYSIWYG format. Code mode shows the code only, as in a text-based editor. Both of the modes can be shown in a split screen display, making it easy to code by hand and see the results instantly. The split screens work in unison so changes made in one will also be shown in the other.

This is a large program with many features. You probably won't use most of them but if you need them they're there.

The Task Panes

These panes can be displayed as they are needed. They consist of tag and table layouts, CSS properties and related behaviors and tasks, tools for creating accessible and compatible pages, and various other tools which enhance the work process.

Other Features

As with many of the current editors, included is a feature to automatically finish tags once you've begun entering them. You can either select the appropriate tag from a drop down list or finish the tag and let the editor insert the closing tag, if necessary. It's handy unless you're used to hand coding. In that case, the feature is best turned off.

Most of the commonly used HTML tags can be entered directly by double-clicking on the tag in the HTML task pane. This makes the work effortless assuming you can find the tag quickly.

Creating style sheets is relatively simple. (You still need to have some understanding of them though.) Clicking on the "New Style" link brings up a box with all the items needed to create any type of style. A preview of the style is shown in the window at the bottom of the box, making it easy to see what you're creating. Unfortunately, CSS shorthands are not used, e.g., instead of combining each of the font characteristics on one line, the editor places them all on separate lines. It does, however, format the styles so they're easily readable.

Creating tables is easy. It's just a matter of inputting a few numbers and it's finished. The code is formatted in an easy-to-read layout. The editor can also be set to automatically give each table a unique ID.

The editor includes an XPath Expression Builder for working with XML data. In addition, ASP.NET controls can be easily inserted and configured using the controls toolbox, properties grid and on-control "action menus." ASP.NET can also be used to obtain data from a database using data source controls and data-bound controls.

While the program does have real-time standards validation, the editor doesn't tell you a tag is deprecated until after it's been entered. While it's a helpful feature, it would be much better if there was a warning beforehand.


As I stated at the beginning of this review, I'm generally not fond of many Microsoft products but I must say that I was pretty impressed with this package. Unlike other WYSIWYG editors, it only writes the code necessary for the work being done.

Using the editor was pretty simple. I generally don't read the instructions until I've had the software for some time so this one was pretty easy to maneuver around. Most of the items were placed in areas where you would expect them to be.

If you like editors that do a large portion of the work for you, and you want the WYSIWYG capability, download the trial package and take it for a test drive. Everything is functional so you can get the entire perspective. If you're currently using FrontPage then you'll want to upgrade to this package.

The Basics

The software is available as a download from the Microsoft Web site, as well as online stores. It sells for $269.10 for the whole program and $89.96 for an upgrade from FrontPage at As I stated before, there is also a free 60 day trial from Microsoft.

Expression Web system requirements:

  • PC with Pentium 700 or faster processor
  • Windows XP Service Pack 2 or later or Microsoft Windows Server 2003 Service Pack 1 or later operating system
  • 512 MB of RAM or more
  • 1.5 GB of available hard disk space; a portion this disk space will be freed after installation the original download package is removed from the hard drive
  • CD-ROM or DVD-ROM drive
  • 1024 × 768 or higher resolution monitor
  • Internet functionality requires Internet access; Network access required
  • Broadband connection, 128 Kbps or greater, for download and activation of products