Adobe Creative Suite vs. Microsoft Expression Studio

Recently, both Microsoft and Adobe released major upgrades of their powerhouse Web Design toolkits. Microsoft's Expression Studio 2 runs primarily under Windows and consists of five applications. Expression Web 2, the suite's flagship Web editor, comes with several ready-made templates that students can use to build their first Web site templates provide stylish layouts with boilerplate text and image placeholders, as well as navigation bars for consistent movement from one page to the next.

Adobe's Creative Suite 4: Web Premium is available both for Windows (XP with SP2 or Vista with SP1) and Macintosh (Power PC, G5 or Intel processor running OS X 10.4.11 or later). It features 11 applications, including three typically bundled with other Adobe CS4 suites. Unlike Microsoft Expression Web 2, however, Dreamweaver CS4 does not include those colorful site-ready templates complete with navigation bars. It does offer several ready-made sample blank pages, frame layouts and CSS design files to give users a head start in project design, but lacks the colorful Starter Page samples that shipped with Dreamweaver CS3.

Cost of doing Web Business
Currently, high schools can get the Microsoft Expression Studio 2 suite at no charge through Microsoft High School Academic Alliance. Microsoft also bundles Visual Studio Standard 2008 as part of this pilot program. High School instructors interested in using the suite in Web Design courses can take advantage of the free Expression Web curriculum aligned with NETS (National Education Technology Standards) that Microsoft provides, complete with essential questions, lesson plans, rubrics, and tutorials.

Adobe charges for CS4: Web Premium, but schools can take advantage of academic pricing and volume licensing options. Adobe also offers a free year-long companion standards-based Digital Design curriculum with unit and activity step-by-step tutorials, reproducible student materials, presentations, and some media assets. Teachers can download these resources and use them in their Web design courses. Adobe Digital Design instructional materials are aligned both to the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Students (2007) and Adobe's new Certified Associate Web Communication and Rich Media Communication objectives.

Should You Upgrade?
Both Expression Web Studio and Adobe's latest Web Design Suite have several new features that make upgrading worthwhile. For example, Adobe Web Premium includes an overhauled interface with a more streamlined workspace regardless of application, plus tighter integration among Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver and Fireworks applications. Dreamweaver CS4 has several new features making it easier for Web design newbies to create and manage Web content and CSS styles. Just the new Live View option alone with its interactive code editing is a huge improvement because designers can preview a page under construction in a simulated browser while still being able to implement changes in code view. Add to this the modifications in the program's Property Inspector which splits text editing options into CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) vs. HTML formatting and even CSS-challenged folk like me can easily create CSS targeted rules to apply to the open page or other pages in the site.

Which Suite Should You Choose?
Schools and districts that have already standardized on Adobe applications or Macintosh should upgrade to Adobe CS4: Web Premium if funds permit. The suite incorporates new animation tools, fast switching from Photoshop to Illustrator to Flash to Fireworks, enhanced Web authoring tools and much more. On the other hand, if your school or district is Windows-based and you want a less expensive way to integrate the latest Web design technologies into the curriculum, Microsoft Expression Studio 2 delivers top-quality, high-end tools for site construction, digital asset management and support for Adobe Photoshop and a more affordable price than Adobe CS4: Web Premium.

• Expression Studio: $110 (Academic pricing available)
• Creative Suite 4: Web Premium (Academic), single copy $549, volume licensing about $300, plus media through ASAP software

-- Carol S. Holzberg, PhD