This week I’ve been playing with Microsoft Expression Web, the successor to FrontPage. The good news is that I would recommend it, especially if it means you will stop using Front Page. I still see a lot of TWT portfolios using Front Page, and yes there are recurring Mac glitches.
Although I will still be using Dreamweaver as a primary editor, I am comfortable recommending Expression Web as a good solution for many people, It is cheaper than Dreamweaver, and its interface is more similar to Microsoft Office (a major appeal of Front Page over Dreamweaver).
However, the code it generates is superior over Front Page. It is 1) cleaner, 2) standards based especially in terms of formatting which is CSS based and most importantly 3) more browser neutral. The interface is somewhere between Dreamweaver and Microsoft Office, so that newer users may be a little more comfortable, but power users can generally find the tools they need.
Again, Expression Web does much better here than FrontPage. My major complaint with FrontPage in terms of Unicode was that it defaulted to the vendor-specific encoding win-1252. Surprisingly Mac supports this to some extent, but it led to all sorts of display glitches, especially for “exotic” punctuation such as smart quotes and en/em dashes, all of which were conveniently inserted by Word (the source of a lot of FrontPage text).
Expression Web is now Unicode by default, although you can adjust encodings if you need to. It also has a fairly straightforward way to insert the LANG and DIR attribute, and an Insert Symbol tool which is superior to Dreamweaver’s
I did have two complaints
- The default font in code view is Courier which doesn’t incorporate a wide range of Unicode characters. You can have HTML looks fine in WYSIWYG mode but displayes as question boxes of death in code view. Fortunately you can switch the code font to something like Arial Unicode MS.
BTW – Dreamweaver supports font switching in code view (at least on the Mac). As long as a font is available, the code will show a character.
- My other complaint is from Expression Web 2 in which Language tagging was directly tied to the keyboard you were using (by default). However, I was testing keyboards and managed to set my language tag to Greek for the entire doc…before I even typed anything in. Yikes. Interestingly, this option disappeared in the most recent version (good thing).
In terms of Unicode support, I would definitely recommend Expression Web although my heart still belongs to Dreamweaver. That doesn’t mean Dreamweaver couldn’t use a few tweaks though (I still tend to enter a lot of Unicode info by hand…just saying).
The one area Expression Web fell short for me was in terms of accessibility.
One of the things I love about Dreamweaver is all the tools which allow developers to enter quirky accessibility features in WYSIWYG mode. Insert an image and you are asked for an ALT tag. Insert a form field and you are asked for a LABEL tag, and the TABLE tool lets you quickly generate TR tags.
Not so with Expression Web. It does prompt you to enter an ALT tag for images (an improvement), but that’s pretty much. If you want LABELs on FORMs or TRs with SCOPE on a TABLE, then you have to do it by hand. This is so much more tedious, the temptation is to skip it to the end…and you know what happens then – nothing.