Microsoft will feature on Monday an upgrade to its Expression toolset for application design that includes search engine optimization capabilities. But the toolset will not back a video codec being promoted by Google as key to an open media format effort.

Microsoft Expression Studio 4 includes tools for designers and developers to collaborate and build user interfaces for the Web, desktop, and devices. Featured among the three configurations of the suite are the following Expression tools: Web, for Web design; Blend, for UI design; Encoder, for video encoding; and Design, a tool for for building UI elements or graphics to be imported into the Web or Blend tools. Expression Web features SuperPreview, a browser compatibility tester. SketchFlow, a prototyping capability, can be used with Blend.

 

Expression Web in Expression Studio 4 addresses the issue of getting visibility on search engines, said Jon Harris, senior product manager for Expression Studio. "It's almost like a black art" to get this visibility, he said. "The Web team has built a search engine optimization program" to look at application design and code and make suggestions on changes that could enhance search engine optimization, Harris said.

Expression Web also offers an extensibility model to build add-ins with HTML, JavaScript, and CSS.

A new version of Encoder, called Expression Encoder Pro 4, enhances publishing of video to Microsoft's Silverlight rich Internet plug-in platform and backs the latest H.264 video codec capabilities, enabling higher-quality video. But it does not support the VP8 codec being promoted by Google for industrywide usage.

"VP8 is an older codec, lower quality," Harris said.

"What Encoder is about is delivering the highest-quality video at the lowest bit rate possible," he said.

In May, Google touted the open source VP8 codec as part of its WebM initiative for an open media format.

Expression Blend 4 supports Silverlight 4 and .Net Framework 4. It also is compatible with the Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 IDE. Blend 4 features enhanced Adobe Photoshop import capabilities, including layer effects, new and conditional behaviors, enhanced sample data, and Pixel Shader effects.

Expression has accommodated designer-developer workflows at application developer Cynergy Systems, said Dave Wolf, vice president of strategy at the company.

"What's been great about Expression is that it's really built to suit those workflows. It works the way we work, and it lets us do what we do best with the tools we use every day, even when those aren't Microsoft tools, like Photoshop," Wolf said.

Expression can serve as a companion to Visual Studio, although Harris acknowledged some overlap, such as coding and design capabilities. But Expression is geared to designers while Visual Studio is focused on coding and debugging, Harris explained.

Expression Studio 4 comes in three versions, including Ultimate, which features Blend with SketchFlow; Web with SuperPreview; Encoder Pro; and Design. Ultimate is geared to professional Web designers and organizations.

The Expression Studio 4 Premium configuration features Blend; Web with SuperPreview; Encoder; and Design. Expression Studio 4 Web Professional includes Web with SuperPreview, Encoder, and Design.

Microsoft is offering upgrades to Expression 4 at no additional cost to Expression 3 suite owners, in recognition that Expression 3 came out only nine months ago.

Microsoft did not provide pricing for the Premium edition; it is available only through participation in programs such as MSDN Premium.