Microsoft Web Matrix: What's In It for Dev Professionals?

Learn about this new IDE from the ASP.NET team

There’s been a lot of buzz online about Microsoft’s recent release of WebMatrix – a new IDE from the ASP.NET team designed to streamline web development, deployment, and commoditization on the ASP.NET stack. And while some professional web developers within the Microsoft sphere have been quick to complain about Microsoft “wasting time” on a tool for Noobs, I’m excited about WebMatrix for a couple of reasons.


Make no mistake, WebMatrix is for beginners. The sole reason for its existence is to make it easier for non-professionals to get started with web development. To this end, WebMatrix includes a light-weight IDE that has been heavily coupled to an embedded database engine and a new light-weight version of IIS for integrated hosting support. All three of these core components (along with an application gallery where beginners can select templates to use as the starting point for their applications) ship in a very tight package that comes in at under 16MB.

Better yet, WebMatrix is MORE than just a rubber-band thrown around three really powerful new components (IDE, DB, and AppServer). It’s been decked out with lots of training materials (and I’d wager that a metric TON of additional materials are in the works), and it has support for a whole host of new intrinsic objects that will make development tasks much easier for beginners. For example, in addition to the traditional Request, Response, and Server intrinsics, WebMatrix also provides support for commonly required components (called Page Helpers) and interfaces in the form of intrinsic objects for Files, Mail, DB, and even Twitter or Facebook.

Consequently, Microsoft’s goal with WebMatrix is to target the large number of non-developers who turn to WordPress or PHP when they need to create a brochure site, blog, or other simple web application. And, of course, it’s only natural to assume that Microsoft’s goal is to provide a compelling and accessible option for these non-technical users that will help drive the need for more licenses of Windows Server.

Therefore, if Microsoft is able to succeed in making Web Matrix a truly viable solution for beginners who need simple web solutions then WebMatrix will help improve the Windows ecosystem. That, in turn, should mean more business and opportunities for professional web developers when these non-professionals need additional features, functionality, support, or training.

I’m sure that some professional developers will decry some of the noob mistakes that will be unleashed upon the world if WebMatrix succeeds. But, frankly, those mistakes have been part and parcel of the professional development world since time immemorial. With WebMatrix, the only thing that changes is that these mistakes and “sins” will be unleashed within familiar territory.

Benefits for Professional Developers

In addition to enriching the Windows ecosystem (why does that sound like marketing material?), WebMatrix provides some fantastic benefits and capabilities for professional developers.

For starters, WebMatrix integrates Microsoft’s SQL Server Compact Edition 4.0. I’m personally not that interested in SQL Server Compact, but I know that plenty of professional developers will be happy to evaluate it and will put it into place in a variety of solutions.

On the other hand, I’m positively giddy about IIS Express, which comes bundled as a light-weight hosting engine for WebMatrix. For me the allure of IIS Express is that it will provide the same F5 ease-of-use as the ASP.NET Development Server – but with the full parity of an actual IIS experience. Translated, that means that I won’t have to deal with all of the “lies”’ you have to deal with in cases where ASP.NET Development Server behaves differently than IIS. That, and I won’t have to bother with installing IIS on my workstation (which, sadly, has always caused me grief in the past and which has always been markedly slow in terms of spinning up new debugging attempts).

Likewise, I’m also very excited about Razor. In fact, as an ASP.NET MVC developer, I’m in love. One of ASP.NET’s true strengths (through the years) is that page compilation has always consisted of parsing .aspx pages to translate both markup and code (or code-behind) into MSIL. Razor builds upon that core functionality, but rips out all the padding, stuffing, heated seats, power-windows, air-conditioning, and other cruft to provide an insanely minimalist approach to combining markup with code. In fact, all that’s left is a bullet bike: raw, unadulterated power, with a tiny bit of padding on top of the gas tank for a seat – along with handle bars, a throttle, and levers for brakes.

The True Benefit of WebMatrix: Synergy

In the end, there’s no doubt that even without the release of WebMatrix that IIS Express, SQL Server Compact Edition 4.0, and even Razor would have all eventually seen the light of day. But they all would have shipped out on their own schedules.

My hope, therefore, is that since Microsoft is trying to use the component pieces of WebMatrix to help beginners, they’ve done a few extra passes through these components to make them all play nicely together. And that, in turn, should mean that each piece of the WebMatrix puzzle that ships will be that much more robust and mature when it ships. Which is one more reason why this professional developer is happy about Microsoft’s focus on WebMatrix.

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