Microsoft will release its first suite of Web and graphic design software in the middle of next year, putting it in direct competition with Adobe Systems.

The software suite, Expression Studio, comprises four components and will sell for a combined price of $599. It had been scheduled for release by the end of this year with just three applications but now includes iView Media Pro photo management software acquired by Microsoft in June.

Renamed Expression Media, it is available for trial or purchase for $299 direct from Microsoft's website, with a free upgrade once the product ships next year. Expression Web, a Web design tool that is the successor to Microsoft's discontinued Frontpage, is available now for $299, said Microsoft, with a 60-day trial for download at Microsoft's site. Frontpage users can upgrade for $99.

Microsoft said the latest public beta of Expression Blend, an interactive design tool formerly known as Interactive Designer, has a new user interface. The beta became available today. It will cost $499 and will include Visual Studio Standard.

A new Community Technical Preview (CTP) of Expression Design, a layout and graphic design tool similar to Adobe Illustrator, was also released available today. The software was formerly known as Graphic Designer, and, before that, Acrylic. It will not be sold separately.

Users of any of the individual components of Expression, along with users of Visual Studio Standard or above - as well as subscribers to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) - can get the entire Expression suite for an upgrade price of $349. Microsoft also said the .NET Framework 3.0, the ASP.NET AJAX beta, and the latest CTP of the Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere (WPF/E) is available today. .NET is the programming framework for Windows Vista.

WPF is the graphical subsystem for the .NET Framework 3.0 that uses a variant of the XML programming language called XAML. It is meant to help programmers and designers collaborate better by creating the same underlying code base for both graphical elements and script-driven interactivity. WPF/E, which will allow those features on non-Windows operating systems and Web browsers, will also be ready for final release in the first half of next year.