Microsoft WebMatrix is a mixed bag

Microsoft's free and easy Web development tool for noncoders has some nice features, as well as irksome shortcomings

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WebMatrix misses
When I first saw the WebMatrix demo, I was very impressed with the smooth way it calculated dependencies and constructed the application stack -- database, interpreters, and connectors -- needed to run a public domain Web application on Windows. It looked like the Windows answer to the auto-installer packages you get for free on hosted Linux websites.

When I tried it myself, I was bitterly disappointed. Sure, the dependencies were calculated, and the primary package came down quickly. However, the download stalled, and I was never able to do a successful installation from the Gallery, even after multiple tries on multiple days.

I had better luck with the templates, but there are only a few of them, and they don't do much. The Bakery demo does show off Razor markup, but frankly I'm not impressed. Yes, Razor requires less markup and simpler code than ASP, PHP, or ASP.Net, but those technologies make a much clearer distinction between server code and client markup than Razor when you are looking at the source of a page.

The new SEO scanner can look at any site -- not just your own -- and point out where the rules in its database have been broken and how to fix the problem. Many of the checks are useful, but mostly at a low level, such as "The page contains broken hyperlinks." Other checks seem to be misguided, based on my own experience doing search optimization. For example, search engines tend to give higher scores to pages with organic body content and no keyword metadata, but the SEO scanner expects to see keyword metadata.

I gave WebMatrix a good grade for documentation, but that is strictly on the strength of the WebMatrix minibook. The help link doesn't seem to work at all from most places in the program -- it just takes you to Bing.

WebMatrix links to a gallery of Windows Web hosting providers, but I'm not impressed. It does bring out the differences between providers that give you plenty of bandwidth, an SLA, and 24/7 support and providers that give you a starter site and no help, but there are too few reviews to get a sense of the quality of the service and support. I can't tell you how frustrating it can be to have a crappy hosting provider without telephone support for a site you care about. (The providers I'm thinking of are not among those on the gallery, however.)

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