Expression Studio 4 Released
Today, Microsoft released Expression 4, a suite of products for designing and building graphics, web sites, video, and WPF/Silverlight applications. If you’ve ever seen me speak at a Code Camp or User Group, then odds are you’ve heard me talk about Expression. Most of my use has centered around Blend, but I have done some work with Design and more recently with Encoder.
I’ve been working with Expression since Version 1, and I’ve truly enjoyed it: Expression made me better at what I do: create applications. I’ve also had my share of complaints, but most of those center around Microsoft’s handling of the Expression Studio in general. I’m both happy and a little annoyed this time around, so I thought I’d share some of my feelings, complaints, and suggestions.
First, the good news is in the pricing. Last time I was a little miffed at the upgrade cost. I’d like to point out that I was never upset at having to pay for the tool, but the things that really got under my skin were removing Expression Studio from MAPS and then forcing me to upgrade the entire Studio. With Expression Studio 3 they removed the option to buy the tools individually.
While you could buy a package that included everything BUT Blend, apparently someone at Microsoft thinks I can’t make use of Blend without Web, Design, and Encoder. So the most valuable tool in the Studio, by far, is the one with the most limited (and least acceptable) purchasing options. So I was forced to purchase an upgrade of the entire Studio when all I wanted was Blend 3.
So that was my rant last time, and unfortunately some of it is still true: you just can’t get Blend without buying the entire Studio. The good news, if you already own Studio 3, is that the upgrade is FREE.
If you go to the Upgrade page you’ll see this helpful text:
How To Upgrade
If you purchased Expression 3 from a store, download the trial of Expression Studio 4 Ultimate or Expression Studio 4 Web Professional. Provided you have Expression 3 installed on that computer, the full version will automatically be enabled. Owners of Expression Web 3 can upgrade for free to Expression Studio 4 Web Professional and owners of Expression Studio 3 can upgrade to Expression Studio 4 Ultimate.
Great! This means I can upgrade for Free. You cannot purchase any of the packages yet, all the buttons say “Buy Coming Soon”. They also list the “Estimated Upgrade Price”. They really shouldn’t call this an upgrade, instead it should be some kind of a discount, because it is not limited to previous ownership of Studio. Both the main packages allow purchase at the upgrade price to “Any Adobe Creative Suite product”. That is a great idea!
Upgrade pricing is also available for Expression 1 and 2 users: the site states “Any Microsoft® Expression product”.
The new breakdown of Expression products has been renamed to align with the rest of the Microsoft Universe.
Expression Studio Ultimate – the everything version:
- Web with SuperPreview
You are also eligible for Upgrade Pricing to Ultimate if you have Visual Studio 2005 or later. I’m glad they are finally making some step towards developers, but it’s not enough (more on that later.)
Expression Studio 4 Web Professional – for web developers, as long as you don’t include Silverlight in “The Web”:
- Web with SuperPreview
You are also eligible for Upgrade Pricing to Web Professional if you have Any Microsoft Office product.
Expression Encoder 4 Pro – OK, so I correct myself: you can buy one product by itself, which is great if all you need to do is encode video. In fact, it’s such a great idea, they should make it available for the rest of the products in the Studio! Oh, and is Expression Encoder 4 Pro any different than the version included in the previous two versions of Studio? If not, why isn’t it listed as “Pro” in the previous packages?
And check out the “Which Product is Right For Me?” option on the page. It’s a Silverlight Application – I’ll bet the designer of this Web site had access to Blend!
There is one particularly confusing thing on the web site at the moment:
The Ultimate Development Resource, including tools for designers
A MSDN Subscription offers you access to virtually all of the Microsoft products you need to design, develop and test your next app. Expression Studio 4 is now available through a MSDN subscription. Expression Studio 4 Ultimate is included in the Ultimate level subscription and the Premium level comes with Expression Studio 4 Premium.
Check out that last statement: “the Premium level comes with Expression Studio 4 Premium.” What the heck is Expression Studio Premium? If it’s not more than a typo, then I’d like some clarification please.
What gives with requiring MSDN Premium? Why not include it with Professional? Why are we still holding developers back from getting their hands on Blend? I’ll tell you why: Microsoft hasn’t figured out that the long term market for Blend is NOT Designers: it’s Developers. This incorrect attitude is evident in statements like the one above labeling Expression as “tools for designers”.
I make no bones about my opinion on this matter: I think Blend should be bundled with Visual Studio Professional and higher. Not the whole Studio, just Blend. Unwillingness to purchase yet another tool is one of the main obstacles I encounter in my Blend Evangelism. They think Blend isn’t for them – if it was, Microsoft would give it to them. If it was for them, it would be built in to Visual Studio, because THAT is for developers.
Instead, we hold it just out of reach for many developers. There are lots of shops that can’t afford to subscribe to MSDN Premium or Ultimate – mine is one of them. Fortunately, mine is willing to invest separately in Expression: most aren’t. And truthfully, the only reason they are willing to pay for it now is because I initially got Studio 1 and 2 as part of MAPS. This gave me free time to experiment with the tool and prove it’s usefulness. If we were just starting today it may have been a different story.
For now, the good news is we’ve gotten those developers a little closer: they can buy the Studio at the Upgrade Price. It’s a good start, but I think if we really want adoption to increase, we need some other options. If we can’t have Blend as a companion to Visual Studio, then at least have the ability to buy Blend as a stand alone tool, preferably with a stand alone price tag.