Microsoft has unveiled a version of its toolset for Web and multimedia designers that includes the first native support for its Silverlight technology across all of the products in the suite.

Expression Studio 2 includes five products: Expression Web for Web design; Expression Blend for multimedia and 3D design, Expression Design for graphic design, Expression Media for storing and sharing multimedia assets, and Expression Encoder for video encoding. The new release marks the first time Encoder is in the suite as a full-fledged product, said Wayne Smith, Microsoft group product manager for Expression Studio.

In the new release, all of the products now have support for Silverlight, Microsoft's multimedia runtime for running live and streaming video on the Web. Previously, only Expression Web had support for Silverlight, but it was very limited, Smith said.

In a sense, this is the first full release of Expression, as Silverlight is a key component of Microsoft's design strategy and overall plan to compete with Adobe's Creative Suite and its Flash technology. Expression Studio has only been in the market about a year, but Smith said the company is not sharing customer-adoption information. However, he said that judging from the interest in preview versions of Expression Studio 2, the inclusion of Silverlight should increase sales of Expression overall.

Other improvements to Expression Studio 2 include support for PHP development in Expression Web and improvements to video-file compression in Expression Encoder, Wayne said.

As part of the release, Microsoft also in June will begin offering a new subscription for the product that gives designers another way to purchase the software besides the current packaged option. Microsoft previously unveiled the subscription for Expression at its MIX 08 conference in Las Vegas in March.

In addition to giving designers Expression Studio 2, the professional subscription also will include a standard edition of Visual Studio and Office, Office Visio Professional, Windows XP, Windows Vista Business Edition, Virtual PC and Parallels Desktop for Mac. The subscription costs $999 a year, but there will be a discount on that when customers renew their subscriptions after the first year, Smith said.

The traditional licenced version of Expression Studio 2 is available for purchase or upgrade from the first version of Expression on Microsoft's website now. It also should be available by mid-month in retailers with an estimated retail price of $699. To encourage Adobe users to switch to Expression, Microsoft also is offering upgrade deals; information is available on the website.

Aside from Expression Design 2, all of the suite's tools are available for individual purchase. Expression Blend 2 is available for $499, Expression Web 2 is available for $299, Expression Media 2 for $199 and Expression Encoder 2 for $199.