So what exactly goes into the thinking behind a creative suite of tools? While the “office” suite of products is a well understood concept, there is less of a track record in creating conglomerations of tools for designers that really make sense. Within many creative disciplines there is a tremendous focus on specific skillsets or mediums. As a video editor myself back in the mid nineties, I had a need for motion graphics and titling software, but not sound sweetening. Colleagues of mine who focus on “web design” may or may not have a need for a interactive tool like Flash, as they may focus on standards based site designs with PHP/ASP.NET and raw HTML/CSS on the client. For that matter, to be honest, as a Office user myself, I increasingly find myself just using Powerpoint and Outlook… Word and Excel are much more specialized than anything I need on a regular basis. When we were putting together our plans for Expression Studio, we had many conversations about whether we were building individual products to solve the specific needs of a web or Windows medium, or, a solution/suite that would really be the primary solution for a discipline of design that was much less focused on technology, and much more focused on craft (hmm, in speaking of it in such terms I think I’m glorifying our approach before I’ve explained our decision—oh well).
With Expression Blend and Web we have (effectively) two WYSIWIG tools (Web is a “standards” XHTML tool, Blend a “XAML designer”). In some ways these two pieces of the studio might thus stand on their own, as the desire to build a XAML interface vs. a XHTML site are today somewhat silo-ed entities. But if you look at some of the killer “Windows” and “Web” apps that are emerging, particularly in the last year, it is clear that the dividing line between a web/windows app is an increasingly meaningless distinction. The best Windows apps today incorporate the power of the network and “cloud”, while taking full advantage of the desktop hardware, local storage, connectivity to hardware devices, and a variety of presentation contexts (such as the living room, desktop, or notebook on the road) for optimal end user experience. Similarly, the best “Web” apps today increasingly offer richer, less-latent, more productive experiences—hereto not expected in a “browser”. Microsoft’s many platform investments, in web and media servers, client and server scripting, and SDKs/APIs for both Windows and ubiquitous browser based runtimes, likewise break down the traditional notion of web vs Windows.
For Expression Studio v1 we will deliver Blend, Web, Design, and Media—four products with varying degrees of direct integration. Design and Blend are particularly well integrated, sharing a common UI, and a coupled XAML workflow that really focuses on the staged process of taking “visual design” elements and applying them to interactive interface elements/controls/layout. Web sits a little astride for now, with a focus on XHTML and ASP.NET website development, while Media is a pure workflow play, offering a kick-ass asset management solution (note: I’ve been a fan of iView Media Pro, the product we acquired in June 2006 explicitly to bring into the Expression Studio; I first started using MediaPro back in 2000, and today have over 30,000 images/files in my catalogs that I keep track of using the tool). As the “WPF/E” technology comes to market, the natural need for XAML markup will extend across all of the products in the family, forming a common lingua franca for describing the look and behavior of everything from a Windows application control to a interactive video website that runs perfectly on a Mac OS browser such as Safari.
Our vision is that in the same sense that other creative tool suites have focused on Desktop Publishing and Photography, or Apple’s FCP as an all things video/media… the Expression Studio will be an integrated solution of tools for crafting the best User Experiences—whether those be for Windows, the Web, or beyond… This is very much a still emerging market segment, one that we expect will grow rapidly in the years ahead as the creative designers and developers in the space usher in a new era of rich, compelling experiences for computers, devices, and other “surfaces” (on walls and floors, among others!