Microsoft halts Expression development

There's apparently no need for the graphic design tool to be released as a stand-alone application, so development has been halted while associated projects catch up

Microsoft has temporarily halted development work on some aspects of its upcoming professional graphics application as it tries to bring companion tools and its next-generation Windows Vista operating system to market.

The application — called Expression Graphic Designer — was first released in test form in June last year, and is based on Expression, the tool Microsoft acquired with its 2003 purchase of Hong Kong company Creature House. But despite being widely seen as a rival for Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator products, Microsoft does not see the product as a stand-alone offering.

"At the moment, there's no great reason for us to release it as a stand-alone product," the company's senior product manager for the for the Europe, Middle East and African professional designer markets, Wayne Smith, said last week during a trip to Australia.

In an interview with ZDNet Australia, Smith explained that Microsoft was taking so long to bring Graphic Designer to market because the company had put a lot of the development work for the application on hold, until sibling products and Vista could be finalised.

"It's not been that someone's been beavering for all these months and getting nowhere," he said.

Smith said that Microsoft sees Graphic Designer solely as a companion product for other products in the Expression range — namely Interactive Designer and Web Designer.

Interactive Designer is for building the user interface and layout of interactive Web or Windows applications, while Web Designer is purely aimed at Web site construction.

The Expression range is meant to ease coordination between software developers who write code and graphic artists who create visual elements, using XAML which Microsoft developed.

"So if the other two tools haven't been released, there's no great reason to have this released yet. It absolutely exists to support both Web Designer and Interactive Designer," said Smith.

The executive said Graphic Designer would probably be released at the same time as Web Designer, with both likely to make it to market before Interactive Designer and Vista.

"We can maybe even possibly put them in the same box as a mini-studio of some kind," he said.

"Web Designer, because it's a traditional design tool on current-based standards will be the first release, I don't know when, but towards the back end of 2006," Smith said. "Maybe around October or November.

"Graphic Designer will probably sit alongside it, because it makes sense from a synergistic point of view to have the two tools together."

Smith said Interactive Designer depended on Microsoft's WinFX programming model being introduced with Vista, itself due to ship in late 2006.

"Interactive Designer's going to be after Vista, because it's built on the WinFX architecture," he said. "We need to wait for WinFX to ship in its final release, and then to do a couple of months of stabilisation work."

Microsoft has already released community technology previews of Graphic and Interactive Designer.

"There will be those CTPs all through the process. So we will keep on banging CTPs out, even up until the last few months before it's released, people will be able to use the tool," Smith said of Interactive Designer.

Renai LeMay reported from Sydney for ZDNet Australia. For more ZDNet Australia stories, click here.

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