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 hits
But enough with the objections. There are some innovative features in WebMatrix, and Microsoft deserves credit for them.

I like the WebDeploy feature a lot, although it's only supported by some Windows hosts and no Linux hosts. Instead of just uploading your files, WebDeploy can synchronize both your files and your data. If your hosting provider supports it, you don't even have to fill in the parameters on the publication configuration form yourself -- brilliant.

The SQL Server Compact Edition database has SQL semantics but is entirely file-based. That makes it perfect for low-overhead development scenarios. WebMatrix's ability to upsize from this to scalable SQL databases makes it fit into the typical Web development lifecycle. Of course, the free open source SQLite3 has many of the same characteristics, but Microsoft has always had a streak of NIH syndrome.

The product also includes an editor for the database. It isn't much, but it does the job for the schema, data, and indexes, and it keeps the novice from having to learn SQL Server Management Studio or phpMyAdmin.

Overall, I can't really recommend WebMatrix to anyone as a primary site development or maintenance tool, but it might help novices to get their feet wet, and it might help some people set up no-cost Web applications on Windows boxes. On the other hand, WebMatrix is free and doesn't take much download time, so it might be worth adding to your bag of tricks.

See the following page for WebMatrix screen images.

Microsoft WebMatrix 1.0

PlatformsProsConsBottom Line
WebMatrix, IIS Developer Express, and SQL Server Compact (installed via the Microsoft Web Platform Installer) run on Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP SP2 or later, Windows Server 2008, and Windows Server 2003 SP1 or later
  • Lightweight desktop SQL database
  • Website deployment that synchronizes databases and files
  • Simplified Razor syntax and single-page model for server-side code
  • A small assortment of helpers to add common functionality easily
  • SEO site scanner and checker
  • Web application stack constructor depends on download servers being available
  • Oversimplified site editor, but easy link to Visual Studio
  • SEO checker not particularly useful
WebMatrix might be a good way to create working instances of public domain Web applications on Windows if Microsoft ever gets its download servers to perform. It might be a good way to check the SEO of a site if Microsoft ever makes its rules more relevant to real-life search engines. Its Web page editor is so lightweight that it's essentially useless for programming, and its HTTP request monitor is lackluster. On the other hand, its deployment technology and its built-in database look really good.
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