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Microsoft is moving into Adobe and Macromedia territory with graphics and web tools designed to improve the way illustrators and coders work together when building websites.

David Treadwell, a Microsoft corporate vice president, introduced the Expression family of Acrylic Graphic Designer, Sparkle Interactive Designer and Quartz Web Designer on the second day of Microsoft's Professional Developers' Conference (PDC).

"Historically, it's been difficult for developers and designers to work well together," Treadwell told PDC's coder-centric audience. "The Expression family does a lot to make it easier for developers and designers to work efficiently together."

Expression means Microsoft is challenging web tools from Macromedia and design tools from Adobe on the PC. The suite's design goal, of producing better-looking applications through improved collaboration, is similar to Macromedia's Flex.

Flex helps developers building server-side Java code to construct more graphically oriented interfaces to websites and online applications.

Acrylic is a painting and illustration tool that combines graphic design features such as coloring, filters and shadows familiar to users of Adobe's Illustrator and Photoshop. Microsoft adds the ability to alternate between vector- and pixel-based graphics.

Sparkle is for the creation of 3D images and graphics, and uses XAML to transfer the newly designed interface into Visual Studio for hand-over to the coding side of the team. Quartz delivers layout and design capabilities for programmers to build web sites using HTML, XHTML and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS).

Microsoft will no doubt encourage Adobe and Macromedia users to switch to using either all or part of the software trio. Adobe is buying Marcomedia in a $3.4bn deal announced earlier this year, and Microsoft will hope it can tempt users whose old Adobe and Macromedia licenses are set to expire, and who are uncertain of Adobe's product roadmap.

Microsoft is also underpinning Expression with Windows Vista next year, which uses XML at the presentation layer with XAML. Microsoft will use Windows Vista as the platform for Expresson designers.

Forest Key, group product manager for Microsoft developer tools division, contrasted Microsoft’s strategy to those of Adobe and Macromedia. “Our focus is on an area that has not been a focus of others like Adobe – print has been their primary focus. Macromedia’s… focus is more of a marketing context and ours is more applications,” he told The Register. ®

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