Well, the next version of Web Matrix has arrived (download it free at http://www.asp.net/webmatrix) and I'm happy to see it has retained and improved upon all of its original features, and it sports several new ones. Although still not a "1.0" product - its current version number is 0.6.784 - it remains a highly productive tool with many intriguing features, some of which are simply absent in the much higher-powered Visual Studio .NET. In fact, one thing that impressed me most about Web Matrix is it doesn't attempt to be a scaled-down version of VS .NET at all. It's obvious from using the tool that the designers really thought about what was most relevant to the average, non-enterprise ASP.NET developer and tried to fill in some of the Web development holes that exist in VS .NET. The best way to describe Web Matrix is as a Web development tool for developers who simply find VS .NET to be overkill.
Data Management and Presentation
Web Matrix has been endowed with some significantly improved data-management features. Whereas Web Matrix 0.5 allowed only creation and management of MSDE or SQL Server databases, it is now possible with version 0.6 to create and manage Access databases as well (see Figure 1). In addition, the user interface for these abilities has been streamlined tremendously. Database objects open in a tabbed window (like source-code files) instead of the clunky modal dialogs in the prior version. The object design and data display are on two separate tabs of this window, making flipping between the two - or other Web pages - a snap without first having to save your work. This user interface is the same whether you are dealing with Access or MSDE databases.
Figure 1. In addition to MSDE and SQL Server databases, Web Matrix now lets you create and manage Access databases using a consistent user interface.
Like version 0.5, the new Web Matrix still lets you drag and drop database tables from the data window onto the design surface of a Web form. As with data management, however, this new version now supports Access databases for this functionality. As an added convenience, database connections are saved when you close the application, so you don't need to re-create them every time you open Web Matrix.
Local or FTP - You Decide
Although only slightly improved in version 0.6, the ability to easily work with ASP.NET files over an FTP connection is something I find very convenient - especially if you only need to make a small change to a file on your host's Web server. The Web Matrix team has made the FTP option a little more flexible. Also, like database connections, FTP connections are saved when you close the application.
The Workspace window has retained all its ease of use for browsing the local file system or a remote FTP server. Whereas Visual Studio .NET forces you to think in terms of a Web project that must be connected to a running Web server, Web Matrix lets you open files from anywhere and edit and save them. Web Matrix does have projects, but they are provided as a convenience and not a restriction; they merely create a bookmark to a database, FTP server, or a folder on the local hard drive.
Although written using version 1.0 of the .NET Framework, Web Matrix runs just fine on a system containing only version 1.1. This includes the Class Browser, the Web Matrix Web server, and the Web Matrix development environment.
In addition to supporting C# and VB .NET, version 0.6 now supports the J# language as an option for creating ASP.NET pages. You also can set preferences such as tab characters and line numbers specific to each language instead of the one-size-fits-all option in version 0.5. Because Web Matrix is extensible, you probably can look forward to the inclusion of other .NET languages in the future.
Although I'm not a big fan of WYSIWYG designers when it comes to Web development, I still can appreciate the difficulty involved in programming a designer that synchronizes code changes with the design view (and vice versa). Web Matrix does an admirable job in this respect, and I could find only a couple of non-serious issues. It does reformat your code a little as you move from the design view to the code view - which I find a little annoying - but at least the format it chooses is clean and structured.
One feature I use quite often in a WYSIWYG designer is the