A lot of pundits are identifying the new Microsoft Expression Suite as an attack on Adobe/Macromedia – and who could blame them ?
Expression Suite takes advantage of the weaknesses in the Abobemedia line-up very effectively:
1)Expression Designer (nee Acrylic) exploits vector/bitmap gaps in the Photoshop/Adobe Illustrator and Fireworks/Freehand line; only Fireworks has pushed the state of the art of bitmap and vector integration as much as Expression Designer. See our first look here.
2)Interactive Designer (nee Sparkle)takes advantage of the fact that Flash has nearly abandoned designers while it gets its Flash data processing capabilities up and running (and very well too, Flex is already very good, Zorn promises better yet). But in the process, Macromedia has neglected the design interface with extensions that Adobe LiveMotion (since abandoned) for novel treatment of properties, Swishmax for ease of implementing animation effects, Tivity for bringing a no-coding approach, Swift3D for incorporating 3d into animations and a host of other 3rd party vendors have gone a long way with. Now Sparkle starts to address many of these issues while Flash 8 stays put and optimizes operational delivery of Flash experionce (and again does an excellent job here).
So graphics pundits are excused for seeing this as the opening salvo against Adobemedia.
Appletel is the Driving Fear
Expression Suite is Microsofts first of many attempts to add value to Longhorn/Vista such that it will be a compelling upgrade from the now huge Windows Liner – WinXP2, WinXP, Windows 2000, WinNT, Win ME, Win 98, Win 95, and still some Win 3.x. Windows Avalon now WinFX, Yukon now WinFS, and Indigo now WinCS (I think)were to be the Three Musketeers that slayed any leftover pretenders to the Windows Longhorn/Vista desktop being the one true way to Personal Computing. But all three musketeers have had birthing problems – especially Yukon and to an extent Avalon. So Avalon was cutback and WinFS cutout of the Longhorn/Vista OS line up. But then a funny thing happened.
First Google became the place to be for savvy developers and started to do things on the desktop that Microsoft may have thought about – but simply did not deliver. Second, Apple switched to Intel. So now its WinAppletel. Two OS and GUI interfaces on x86 CPU architecture. And this is “not a good thing in Redmond-ville”.
All bravado aside, Bill has to respect what Steve Jobs and Apple are capable of delivering on x86 especially AMD inspired x86. First, there are many GUI ideas that Microsoft has “borrowed” from Apple including what is being featured in Vista. Second, Steve Jobs knows how to package things very well for target markets as witnessed most recently by iPod and iTunes plus Mac OS10 Server with SAN capabilities. Third in the creative arena, particularly graphics and multimedia, Apple dictates many trends directly or through Adobe, Macromedia and other Mac creative 3rd party ISVs. And besides gaming, there is nothing that forces upgrades to new computing and OS power like graphics and multimedia.
So as Microsoft VP Eric Rudder understated it so subtly – Expression Suite allows Microsoft to be “good enough” in the graphics and GUI space. Expression Suite also guarantees that Microsoft has software that will exploit as much as possible out of XAML and WinFX right from the get go. Microsoft will not be dependent on Aldus Pagemaker or Corel Draw as in the case of Windows 2.x and 3.x to keep them alive in the market. Expression Suite allows Microsoft to guarantee XAML/WinFX exploiting software in Vista fromDay One (sometime in 2006 we are assured). LookExpression Suite all over Office 12.
Finally, Microsoft are the masters of “Just Good Enough” software – taking the mirage of a uniform phalanx of tens of thousands of Windows applications while conjuring up a now and to-be-delivered leading edge of software GUI goodies and functionality – and with that trompe doeil mixture, still convincing ISVs , IT shops, and consumers to convert and carry over that phalanx to a new and different OS.
With Vista such leger-de-main is going to be very much more difficult to presti-digitate … uhhh do. First, the mainstream of computing has split – there is only a small number of users that are going to need Vista using the 80:20 rule – about 20%. The other 80% (who do mail, browsing, word processing, and 1-3 other PC apps) are going to be happier with a much more secure and reliable upgrade to the good old Windows Liner – probably centered on Win 9x or XP (consumers) and Win 2000(IT shops).
Second, there is much fear and loathing in the ISV community. Bill makes the mistake of translating VARs into ISVs (VARs are generally happier with Redmond because they just resell Microsoft Apps with their extensions). ISVs on the other hand are not enamored of Microsoft reserving and then taking over ever larger chunks of the Windows marketplace for themselves. The current Redmond hitlist includes all of BI-Business Intelligence, all of ECM-Enterprise Content Management, most of Collaboration and Searching, all of medium and large scale Enterprise accounting and finance, most of salesforce management/customer relation ship management, and most of operations management. When I talk not to the managers but the sales and support staff in these independent ISVs small and large – there is a palpable fear and loathing of what Microsoft could do to them, their company and their jobs.
Third the conversion is not simple for both ISVs and VARs. Many VARS and ISVs are working with Windows Liner apps not the .NET Framework 2.0 required by Vista and the Expression Suite. Listen, Microsofts own troopers resisted converting to the .NET Framework until late 2004. Windows XP and Office XP and host of other applications were given .NET dispensations. Visual Studio 2004-2005 and SQL Server 2003-2004-2005 were the first “full” .NET Framework apps. And even they will not use strictly managed code as originally intended. But getting from .NET 1.0 to .NET 1.1 to NET 2.0 has proved to be very challenging for the SQL Server and Visual Studio teams (even Microsoft VP Allchin admits it) along with coping with the always changing requirements at 1 Microsoft Way. Can you imagine how excited VARs and ISVs are about converting their products onto the Vista way ? Given the help that Microsoft provided VB6 developers to make the switch to VB.NET, these ISVs and VARs may have some legitimate misgivings.
Finally “Just Good Enough” may have to be across the board better. Look ISVs and Vars are not excited about Vista despite Steve Ballmers promises of billions and billions. IT Shops are consumed with Reliability, Security and Integration. CIOs probably grade Vista as ??? on reliability, from Missouri on Security and getting better integration but only if you are an all Windows latest-software shop. So Microsoft will have to rely on consumers to bring the pull to Vista.
But then Expression Suite as “Just Good Enough” may not be good enough. And indeed that is currently the case with Expression Suite. Despite some leadership positions WinFx takes against Adobemedia and other graphics/multimedia tools, there are a lot of potential gaps in performance, functionality, and interoperability (for details see our reviews at thephotofinishes.com and theopensourcery.com for details) let alone reliability and security which new, out-of-the-box are known to be Microsoft problems.
Meanwhile, which is likely to be more interesting to consumers – Windows Vista as a whole new OS with larger and/or system-obsoleting hardware requirements or Appletel as a fairly well known OS plus new, faster and lower priced hardware ?