Review: Microsoft Expression Web 3 HTML editor

The target audience for Expression Web is graphics artists, Web designers, and other professionals who work with Web pages at the code level, but are not going to be writing server side code.

Microsoft Expression Web 3 is Microsoft's latest version of their HTML editor aimed at design professionals. Unlike past efforts like FrontPage, Expression Web produces excellent, clean HTML. In contrast to Visual Studio (which has a lot in common with Expression Web), the focus is on designing a site and the HTML, JavaScript, and CSS, not the .NET code which potentially drives an application.


  • Supported Operating Systems: XP SP2, Vista, W7
  • System Requirements: 1.5 GB disk space, 1 GB RAM, .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, 1024x768 screen resolution (minimum)
  • Additional Information: Product Web site
  • For a closer look, check out the TechRepublic Photo Gallery

Who's it for?

The target audience for Expression Web is graphics artists, Web designers, and other professionals who work with Web pages at the code level, but are not going to be writing server side code. Web developers may prefer to do the front-end work of a Web site in Expression Web, and then bring the design into their code editing environment such as Visual Studio, Eclipse, NetBeans, etc.

What problems does it solve?

There are plenty of HTML editing tools on the market, but few of them are very good. Most are buggy or produce poor quality HTML code. Expression Web integrates nicely into the Microsoft stack of development tools, like Expression Blend (for working with Silverlight) and Visual Studio (for .NET application development).

Standout features

  • SuperPreview: SuperPreview (see the Image Gallery for screenshots) is a tool for comparing how a page looks in different browsers simultaneously and highlighting the differences between the renderings.
  • Standard compliant: One of the common complains about various Microsoft products that produce HTML, is that the HTML they produce is not compliant with existing standards. Expression Web is pleasantly different in this regard.
  • TFS integration: If your development shop uses Team Foundation Server, you will be glad to know that Expression Web plugs right into that environment.
  • PHP editing: Expression Web supports the editing of PHP code as well as ASP.NET code.

What's wrong?

  • Oriented towards the Microsoft stack: Expression Web shines as a Web design tool on its own, but where it integrates with other Web technologies, it is clearly aimed at the Microsoft versions of those technologies. (Silverlight, ASP.NET, etc.)
  • Not a true IDE: While Expression Web supports PHP, ASP.NET, and JavaScript editing, it is not a full development environment. If you need to do things like set breakpoints, watches, and other debugging tasks directly from the environment, you will need another tool for that.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

Over the last few years, the world of WYSIWYG HTML editors has had a real shakeout, and many products have been discontinued. Unfortunately, that included some excellent products like HomeSite. Expression Web fits nicely into the niche that HomeSite had previously occupied, a simple-to-use HTML editor that emphasizes clean, standards compliant code. Expression Web does not force users into either the WYSIWYG paradigm or the hand-code workflow, allowing designers to work at the level that they feel comfortable. The built-in CSS editor is quite usable.

The truly "must have" feature in Expression Web 3 is SuperPreview, without a doubt. SuperPreview makes it easy to find and correct cross-platform differences. The overlay mode gives a great "at a glance" view of the display differences.

If you are looking for a tool to work with HTML, and need something that is friendlier to non-developers than Visual Studio, Expression Web is an excellent choice, even if the rest of your development is not within the Microsoft ecosystem. If you need a tool which tightly integrates the development of PHP (or other service side technologies) with the depth of a true IDE, Expression Web is not your best bet. Its real strength is as an HTML editor, and it is strong enough to justify using it for the HTML work and another tool for the server-side development.

User rating

Have you encountered or used Microsoft Expression Web 3? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out.


Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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