Recently, Microsoft came out with a new tool for HTML and CSS called Expression Web. Microsoft hasn’t exactly had a good track record with web design; in fact I have had a few projects focused solely on fixing sites made with FrontPage. Since I do a lot of work with ASP.NET and most of my own design work, I put aside my fears and gave it a try.
I used it for a few basic projects and was initially not very impressed. For the most part it felt like a less-refined version of Dreamweaver. However, when I started poking around a bit I found that it was pretty good.
For most of my previous projects, I would use Dreamweaver to write my markup and template, and then use Visual Studio to make it work. Dreamweaver’s code coloring and intellisence were just much better for CSS and the split view was very helpful when testing out different font sizes or tweaking colors. The big downside is that Dreamweaver doesn’t support many of the neat ASP.NET 2.0 features like Master Pages and working with server controls was always a little tricky.
This is where Expression Web fills in nicely; it’s almost as good as Dreamweaver for HTML and CSS work and it supports the vast majority of .NET 2.0 features and controls very well. It also does a great job providing some hand-holding for CSS neophytes. The CSS dialog provides some assistance on not only applying styles, but also constructing the selector. The other nice CSS feature is the properties panel, which lists all of the styles that are currently applied to the element, even those that are being overridden. This has become a great tool for figuring out CSS specificity issues.
Overall, Expression Web is a solid tool. It does have some quirks here and there, but that’s to be expected from a first release. It’s nice to see that Micosoft isn’t just improving standards in the browser, they’re also building the tools to back it up. I’ll still keep a copy of Dreamweaver for my PHP work, but Expression Web has definitely earned its place on my hard drive.