So, just how special is this Special Media Edition of Office? Let's find out. First, we have to understand a little background.
Two years ago, Microsoft bought iView Multimedia, which made digital asset management software (used for tracking photos, PDFs, text files, etc.). In the intervening months, not that much happened, until the release of Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition in January.
Now, iView MediaPro 3 has been rebranded as Microsoft Expression Media 1, but other than a name change, some new icons and splash screen, nothing has changed.
Free Expression upgrade
Office 2008 for Mac Special Media Edition is literally a bundle of the standard edition of Office and iView-with-a-lick-of-paint. You even get two separate installer discs and serial numbers.
Version two of Expression Media is due in June of this year, and a sticker on the CD slipcase tells you that you'll get a free upgrade when it ships. Microsoft plans a public beta program shortly, but at the moment we don't know anything about what's promised for the new version.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, though. iView MediaPro was the best small-scale asset management solution, and that hasn't changed.
Extensis' Portfolio is a richer offering and provides a more scalable system that can grow into a full collaborative DAM solution, but its interface is nowhere near as clean as Expression Media's. And while many will be satisfied with iPhoto, Lightroom or Aperture, the focus solely on images is clearly inappropriate if you're looking to manage a more diverse range of media.
Expression Media can cope with more than 100 formats - a recent service pack update added support for the Nikon D40X, Sony's A100 RAW format and Microsoft's emerging JPEG-XR standard - and can generate a thumbnail for most of them.
Volumes can be unmounted after import, so it can be used to catalogue CD-ROMs and other offline media.
Importing is easy. Drag and drop media into a catalogue or use one of the import wizards, optionally sorting into folders and stamping them with preset arrays of metadata based on your templates.
Metadata support is rich - EXIF, IPTC and XMP standards are all supported - so any time spent punching data such as author, location and keywords into metadata fields using the template-capable system in Expression Media isn't wasted; other apps should be able to access it. XMP data can be exported and imported as well.
There are basic editing options such as red-eye reduction - and you can share media from its library in many ways. As well as outputting to contact sheets and web galleries, a free viewer for your Expression Media catalogues - confusingly released under the iView brand - lets you share them with clients and others.
Expression Media is great, and although we're disappointed that essentially nothing has happened since its acquisition by Microsoft, at least it hasn't been molested and we can look forward to, presumably, a pretty major upgrade in June.
It is a bundle with Office, though; see last issue's full Office review. Here, we'll just reiterate that although the cosmetic changes, feature tweaks, and hard work to make it Intel-native are welcome, there's no compelling reason to upgrade if you're running Office 2004 or iWork '08. In this version of Expression Media, there's no specific integration with other Office apps.
And then there's the price. £450 is a lot of money, and Expression Media on its own has almost doubled from its pre-Microsoft days; it now costs £250. We'd have some sympathy with anyone who wanted to wait till June to see what version two brings before making a buying decision.