Microsoft is opening up distribution of its Expression application design platform - while pulling the plug on further upgrades to the Visual FoxPro tool.

In a departure from previous policy, Microsoft said it would make its Expression Web and Expression Blend application design tools available to Premium subscribers to its MSDN service for developers. Expression Web will be available on MSDN on 10 April, while Expression Blend will be offered shortly after its planned release this quarter, Microsoft said.

The change in plans was generated by feedback from customers, S "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Microsoft developer division, said in his blog. Boosting collaboration between application developers and designers is a goal of the effort.

"In hearing this feedback, my team started looking into the matter in more detail, and we talked to customers about how they are planning to use these products. One common theme emerged, and that is developers could better collaborate with designers if they had some experience with the new tools the designers are using," Somasegar said.

"Even if you might not be using the Expression tools primarily, having a wider understanding of how they work and the information they produce will ensure greater communication and quality between design and development," Somasegar said.

Microsoft's Expression Design and Expression Media products, however, are not affected by the MSDN policy.

"As Expression Design and Expression Media are not directly intended for application development, we feel they fall outside the current scope of MSDN subscriptions. We will be watching usage and collecting feedback of these expression products to help make further decisions in the future," Somasegar said.

Meanwhile, at the upcoming Mix07 conference in the US, Microsoft will shed light on the latest developments on technologies such as Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPF/E) and ASP.Net AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML), said Tim O'Brien, director of the platform strategy group at Microsoft.

WPF/E is a cross-browser, cross-platform runtime for running rich media applications, such as those that contain video clips, in a browser. The similarly named Windows Presentation Foundation software is for building rich applications to run on Windows.

A community technology preview of WPF/E was released in early December.

"We're going to be sharing the roadmap for a number of different technologies at Mix," O'Brien said.

"We traditionally [offer] a refresh of whatever existing bits are out there at a lot of our developer events," he said.

Also in the development tools arena, Microsoft faces a challenge to its decision last month not to offer a successor to its Visual FoxPro 9 developer tool. The Portada website features a Spanish-based campaign to release an upgrade. Supporters are urged to sign a petition.

"Visual FoxPro is the best desktop database development environment to date. .Net still lacks many of the better features that Visual FoxPro has in it for years," the site states. "This announcement has been a major blow to the FoxPro community."

"This is especially true for the medium and small application developers (the vast majority of developers in Visual FoxPro) that have many years of Visual FoxPro code. It is not practical or cost-effective to attempt to move these applications to Microsoft's recommended development environment .Net)," according to the site.

Petitioners urge Microsoft to choose one of four paths: continue developing Visual FoxPro, release its source code to the open source community, have a third party continue development, or sell the product to another company. Microsoft in response said Visual FoxPro was not exactly ending.

"Visual FoxPro 9 will be supported by Microsoft through 2015. As part of my presentation at the MVP summit, I announced that Microsoft is going to make the Sedna enhancements [to FoxPro] available to the community as open source through CodePlex," said Alan Griver, group manager for the Microsoft Visual Studio Data Group, in a statement released by the company.

"We appreciate the work that MVPs and community members have already been doing to enhance Visual FoxPro on CodePlex," Griver said. "We felt that putting the environment into open source on CodePlex, which balances the needs of both the community and the large customers, was the best path forward."