Microsoft phasing out some of its Expression design tools

Microsoft phasing out some of its Expression design tools

Summary: Updated: Microsoft is phasing out some of its Expression family of design tools for Windows and Windows Phone. So what's Plan B?


It looks like it's the end of the road for Microsoft's suite of Expression design tools, as Peter Bright over at Ars Technica notes.

Expression Design 4 is being phased out entirely, though it will be patched through 2015. Expression Web 4 also is being dropped. And Expression Blend -- which made it up to Version 5 -- is being folded into bundled with Visual Studio.

Update (December 21): Microsoft changed the wording on December 21 on its Expression Web page. It now says Expression Blend "will continue to ship as a standalone tool with Visual Studio 2012." The phase-out of Expression Web and Expression Design are still proceeding as indicated yesterday.

Microsoft is dropping the Expression name with Blend, a spokesperson said. "Blend will remain a standalone tool shipping with VS2012 (now dubbed Blend for Visual Studio 2012), as part of a complete toolset for designers and developers," the spokesperson said in an emailed statement.

Microsoft first released the Expression tool family, targeted at designers rather than developers, with much fanfare back in the mid-2000s. Expression Web was codenamed Quartz, Expression Blend, Sparkle; and Expression Design was known as Acrylic. A preview build of Expression Blend 5 was bundled in with Visual Studio 2012. Microsoft has been touting Expression Blend as a useful tool for building Windows Store and Windows Phone apps.

In Expression Blend, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Silverlight and SketchFlow support are all currently in preview. (The preview is set to expire in July 2013.) According to Microsoft's Expression site, these capabilities will be released in Visual Studio 2012 Update 2. I'm thinking this means Blend will go final by the time of Update 2 -- which should be out some time in the first half of 2013, if Microsoft continues with its current Visual Studio update pace.

"Microsoft is committed to providing best-in-class tools for building modern applications," read an explainer on the Microsoft Expression page. " In support of these industry trends Microsoft is consolidating our lead design and development offerings — Expression and Visual Studio — to offer all of our customers a unified solution that brings together the best of Web and modern development patterns."

The move away from the Blend name and the Expression Studio suite seems somewhat sudden. In comments on a post from August 2012 about the Expression suite, a forum moderator said "We'll share new info about Expression Studio as soon as we have something to share!"

Microsoft shut down its Mix conference, which was targeted at both designers and developers, in 2011, replacing the show with Build, a conference focused on building apps for Windows, Windows Phone and Azure.

What to make of the phase-out of the changes involving the Expression family? I'm not quite sure, and I'm still as doubtful as ever that Microsoft is intending to make a bid to purchase its design-tool rival Adobe. That said, I am curious what Microsoft's suggested tool suite for designers will be, beyond Visual Studio itself.

Topics: Software Development, Microsoft, Windows 8, Windows Phone


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Simple

    Microsoft is flailing around unable to find direction.
    • Not anywhere near as much as you.

      But that much has always been obvious.
      William Farrel
      • Re: Not anywhere near as much as you.

        I wondered how long it would take till the first ad-hominem attack...
      • I really don't

        know what issue you seem to have when there is any criticism of Microsoft in any way. Some of it is deserved. I'm a long time Windows developer - since Windows 3.1 - and I've never seen the company seemly throw things on the wall and then abandon them - like Expression Studio (which I both use and like), but other products like the Zune. I've always thought very highly of Microsoft, but the company lost focus when Bill Gates left.
        • Lost or

          undergoing an overhaul to realign it's business model? I'll admit between 2006-2010 they were pretty lost. They had a few hits, but since then they've been working towards a leaner business model that is focused on the cloud and mobile computing. I personally believe they are on the right track, but only time with tell.

          On another note we have a couple of Zune players in our house and it's too bad that one didn't work out. They were nice devices and held up better than the 3 IPods my daughters broke.

          • Love

            my Zune HD. I still use it everyday.
          • Agree. My daughter has had 80 Gig Gen II

            Zune for years. Still works and looks great. Thought about the Zune HD but we didn't because basically the original still works. Marketing was the problem IMO. It was a great device and way more durable than ixxxxx. I noticed that Apple finally caught up to MS by putting a radio in the new Nano. Oh and my daughter has had two iPods - both failed, zune still marches on. And the Zune software blows iTunes away. It is very nice.
    • It surely seems that way...

      despite what the trolls here say.

      It will be interesting to see what direction MS ends up taking with everything. the funny thing is that they seem to be really trying to re-invent MS, but have no plans to re-invent their base code for Windows. They just keep piling new stuff on the tired old kernel and try to convience everyone that they are innovating something.

      That being said, MS has the $$$$ to try different things until they have a hit. The thing they do not seem to get is that yesterday is gone and a hit or two only goes so far today. Plus, the cost for MS to create a hit in the media is very high compared to a start-up or someone coming from behind. The price of being number one for so long has taken a long term toll on MS and the cost of an ancient pre-network kernel as a core is showing plenty of ware, charms and all.
      • On the contrary...

        ...Windows 8 for ARM (aka "RT") is completely new, for the mobile tablet platform.
    • Wrong

      On the contrary, by combining expression and visual studio Microsoft is taking a unified direction.

      Visual Studio is already the best programming environment around, expression was just a watered down subset for designers. No one is going to cry for expression.

      In our company we have programmers using visual studio and designers using dreamweaver, which fits them better.

      I know that some people like to interpret any move by Microsoft as the end of the world, but that's just an opinion that has nothing to do with reality.
      • I use

        both, Visual Studio and Expression. Different products that server different purposes. Having done a fair bit of WPF programming, I don't know how any great WPF UI will truly be built with Expression Blend.
    • I disagree.

      Combining these tools is simply a practical consideration. Much of Expression Web was already built into Visual Studio. Expression Design was never that strong of a tool and fell quite short compared to Photoshop or even the GIMP. And Blend, with its programming back-end really was more suited for the programming end and not the design end.

      And if Microsoft does buy Adobe? Why should that be an issue for them? Microsoft appears to be shifting their design-space software to the programming space. However, Adobe has the strongest footprint in the design space. Incorporating them doesn't hurt Microsoft at all.
      • Design

        is not up to Photoshop, that's for sure. But, Blend is a different story.
    • Costs

      They need to cut costs now that Windows 8 will sell much less for desktop PCs.

      Double Failure.
  • VS should be the one tool you ever need....

    and folding the Expression tool suite and technologies into VS is a good move. It's not a good scene to have multiple disparate yet similar products from the same org. Different teams, different schedules, different culture, different leaders, little or hard collaboration and integration etc etc, all very messy indeed. For users too it aches to read and understand what’s good for what and they end up spending more money getting different products for getting a development environment complete. Add to that the licensing complexity and what works with what and what is the right size or volume of purchase. Big enterprises avoid all those hassles and go in for the volume licenses and Software assurance akin programs whereby they get the entire bits and can use whatever they want in their own might. Small players have PITA.

    If all these are consolidated and folded into a single product, perhaps even a VS Designer oriented SKU may be on the blocks; it would be that much easy and pains free for all parties.
    • Re: VS should be the one tool you ever need....

      Pity it is so mediocre, with language standards support below par (where is C++11?) and inability to support cross-platform development (where is the Android target support?).

      Let's face it, even Eclipse, with all its faults, is better than that.
      • No clue

        sorry, but you really don't have a clue about Visual Studio. VS2010 is a fantastic product, far above any Eclipse even thought of (yes, I've used both).
      • While this may be your opinion

        some people actually had the opinion the world was flat also . . . even after it was proved otherwise . . .
        • Re: While this may be your opinion

          It is not a question of "opinion", but of fact, that Visual Studio suffers from the drawbacks I detailed.
      • Sure

        C++ has it's place, for for most line of business apps, C# is a better platform (and I'm an old C++ programmer, started with Turbo C 1.5).