Microsoft Expression Interactive Designer (EID) tool set, which promises to streamline the process of designing user interfaces for Windows applications, is the latest reflection of Microsoft's work on new ways of merging Web page design with development. EID was just published online as a Community Technology Preview and is available here.
EID is a visual design tool that targets the new WinFX API and uses the XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) format to communicate with other Windows development tools.
"The point is to bring the design community into the wider software community," said Wayne Smith, senior product manager, European designer market. "Today developers use a range of tools that don't directly interface into the software creation process. You typically end up with design elements like jpeg files. There is no flow between designers and coders. Programmers have no direct access to using the files they have been given."
Designers will be able to save their EID designs in XAML, which developers can open up in Visual Studio. The files will come in as a screen layout with elements such as buttons and pull-down menus, allowing the programmer to focus on the underlying code to create functionality.
The underlying platform relies upon a set of components that are being incorporated into the Windows Vista release, expected later this year. These rely on the Windows Communication Foundation, Windows Presentation Foundation and Windows Workflow .NET framework elements.
In effect, Microsoft is proposing a very unique way of facilitating collaboration between developers and Web designers, although Macromedia, with Flash and related tools, has taken a somewhat similar path in recent years too.
"This process does not exist today, XAML is a new way of working," Smith said. "With XAML, programmers can devote more time to what they are good at instead of worrying about bending pixels."
Microsoft is looking for feedback in order to fine-tune the Expressions concept. Smith said, "The more people that download and give us feedback, the better the product will be. We would like to think that in a few years, we will have worked out all of the niceties of flow, and people will put design in the front of their thinking rather than the back end."
Microsoft has also released another tool, Expression Graphic Designer, which is a generic graphic design tool akin to Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. Graphic Designer exports traditional files such as jpeg and png, as well as XAML, so that graphics content can be pulled into Windows applications.
Another tool, Expression Web Designer should be released by March. It is a more traditional Web design tool targeting HTML and ASP.NET sites.