Ask anyone who has done web design professionally for any length of time which they would prefer: Dreamweaver, or FrontPage. The response would be a resounding guffaw and the overwhelming response that FrontPage is, professionally speaking, worthless.
In programming, though, Microsoft has the advantage on any competition with their Visual Studio software.
What Microsoft, a company that most would agree already holds a monopoly on much of the software world, plans to do now is lure some of Adobe’s traditional fanbase to their own products. How? Microsoft just released web interface development tools that will be bundled as part of a larger suite of products, Expression Studio suite, aimed to challenge Adobe’s claim as the industry leader.
Microsoft’s Expression Studio Suite
Expression Web was released on December 4, debuting the tool for designing user interfaces. Microsoft also posted a public beta download of Expression Blend, a Windows-specific design software – and Expression Design, a tool for creating animations, logos, and visual elements has seen an early version release.
Each of these three products will later be bundled into Expression Studio, reported to be shipped out early in 2007. They will be joined by an updated version of iView MediaPro, a media asset catalog program, creating a product lineup that experts believe could seriously boost Microsoft’s standing in the Web design market.
Microsoft could use the boost.
While the technology heavyweight continues to dominate in most software arenas, their contributions to the Web and Graphic Design field have been poor to date. Adobe still stands as the almost-unchallenged industry standard, owning all the major tools to create graphic design elements. When Adobe acquired Macromedia, they cornered a serious edge on the market, combining their traditional best-seller Photoshop with Macromedia’s undeniable leader Dreamweaver into a company that presents fierce competition.
Chris Swenson, an analyst at the NPD Group, has said that Microsoft has one great chance to take Adobe on: “They leverage their (programming tool) Visual Studio and price aggressively.”
By all appearances, that’s exactly what Microsoft plans to do. The final version of Expression Blend will include Visual Studio Standard and cost $499. The entire Expression Studio suite is reported to be ready to appear at $599 – Adobe’s Creative Suite currently runs over $1,000 if you’re not upgrading from a previous version.
Tough Design Market
Professional programmers and coders have flocked to Microsoft’s flagship product, Visual Studio, for years now. Professional designers and web developers, though, have run the other direction. According to NDP research, Microsoft only earned about 13 percent of last year’s sales (through October) in any kind of web development products.
Adobe, widely considered to be the big red dot marking the end of the line in those web development products, earned 77 percent of the sales.
Where Microsoft hopes to sway this tough design market is in interactivity. Web designers who must work with application developers are hoped to appreciate the ease with which they can collaborate using Microsoft’s Expression Studio product. In fact, these products are built completely around a language called XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) which can be read easily by Visual Studio.
What this means is that designers and developers can collaborate without needing to know several design languages.
Even in this, though, Microsoft has a late start. Adobe has already introduced a product called Flex, which makes working together much easier for designers and developers.
Swenson has stated that in this race, Microsoft can be expected to increase its market shares up to 15 or 20 percent over the next year.
People who follow the boards, blogs, and forums of the ‘Net, though, might shake their head at Swenson’s hopeful report. There are very few customers willing to take a chance on Microsoft products. From the all-out statement that they “Don’t do Microsoft anything” – including Microsoft’s Windows platform – to more insightful notes like, “Adobe has and still is there for me when I need them, stepping up to the plate and helping me out, going out of their way to do so”, there is a growing rumble of frustration.
Perhaps there’s a lesson for software vendors to learn in the growing territory battles: customer service is key. The largest reason customers are resistant to trying out Microsoft’s new design products is that they have learned to distrust anything Microsoft produces. Adobe doesn’t have a “Patch Tuesday” and doesn’t require a new set of hardware with every upgrade it pushes out. Most importantly, and most loudly, people are saying that they won’t switch to Microsoft because they have come to trust Adobe’s professionalism and always-innovative software.