Microsoft phasing out some of its Expression design tools

Updated: Microsoft is phasing out some of its Expression family of design tools for Windows and Windows Phone. So what's Plan B?
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor

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 v.next 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.

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