Why I love this free alternative to Dreamweaver

Not keen on paying a monthly subscription for Adobe Dreamweaver CC? Well, if you're a PC user, Microsoft has made its Expression Web 4.0 software free of charge - and here illustrator, artist and graphic designer Stefan Lindblad explains why it offers an alternative worth investigating...

I started using Macromedia Dreamweaver when version 1.0 was released. Happy as you can be, I started using it from day one. After half a year I got the hang of it.

My first website had been created by a friend of mine, Ingemar. It looked great and I was happy. But of course I had to update it on my own quite regularly. And so I started using Dreamweaver 1.0 and continued to upgrade with new versions until up to a few years ago.

My version at the time was too old to upgrade. So I started looking for an equivalent program. After several tests of programs such as Coffee Cup and NVU, I finally discovered Microsoft Expression Web - in those days, a boxed DVD version.

Within a year of the release of Expression Web 3.0, the new version, 4.0 was released, and Microsoft gave existing 3.0 users a free upgrade. Then in 2012, Microsoft decided to make Expression Web 4 free for everybody to use*. You can download the full program directly from Microsoft's own website.

[*Ed's note: Be aware that technical support is only available for customers who purchased the paid-for version of Expression Web, which Microsoft is no longer developing; no support will be offered to free downloaders.]

Looks familiar

Anyone who's used Dreamweaver versions prior to CC will feel quite comfortable with the overall user interface and workspace of Expression Web. The UI layout looks quite similar.

Expression Web is free to download from Microsoft's website

Expression Web is free to download from Microsoft's website

For starters, you have the code view and design view, and the combination of both. And you'll find all the panels and tools are conveniently at hand. You activate or deactivate them either directly on the panels and palettes or via the menu.

HTML5 features

Relatively early on, Microsoft saw that HTML5 was going to be the future of web design. So they quickly added HTML 5 capabilities to Expression Web 3.0 in the run up to the release of Internet Explorer 9.

Microsoft Expression Web 4.0 also includes intellisense for the complete HTML 5 specification. You have Intellisense CSS3 draft and support for all CSS properties in the CSS Properties Palette. For example, in the Style dialog you have support for selected CSS Properties such as Border Radius.

Expression Web boast support for CSS properties such as Border Radius

Expression Web boast support for CSS properties such as Border Radius

Look closely at panels such as CSS Properties Palette, Apply Styles and Manage Styles and you'll see that overall, Expression Web makes it easy to move around the world of modern CSS.

Web graphics

The web is no fun without graphics. And it's easy to create them in your image editor of choice - myself, I use CorelDraw and Corel Photo-Paint - and apply them to your documents in Expression Web.

Expression Web 4.0 also supports custom workspaces, which means you can move around and then save the current workspace customization as a workspace of your own. This is found under the Panels menu. Plus you can also customize your own toolbars, so they're better suited for your own needs and workflow. This feature is pretty neat. You'll find it under the View menu.

Customise toolbars to make them better suit your workflow

Customise toolbars to make them better suit your workflow

With 4.0 a Snippets Panel was added to the program, allowing you to store and access snippets folders in a hierarchy. You can have dozens of handy snippets in various languages, and automatically convert and load the custom snippets you build.

No competition

So would it be worth me getting an alternative program such as Dreamweaver instead? Looking at the competition as it stands right now, and the needs I have, I see no real reason to look for a replacement tool right now.

Of course, with the web developing at lightning pace, and software being continually reinvented, one day that may change and I may have to move forward. But currently there's no reason to abandon the program that I continue to use and love. Especially because it's free.

Stefan Lindblad is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer based in Stockholm, Sweden and working for wide variety of clients. He blogs regularly here about a range of design-related issues.

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