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

Microsoft WebMatrix is intended to serve the website creation, customization, and publication needs of designers and amateurs, and not as a substitute for Visual Studio or other professional development tools. As a professional developer, I can see why it might appeal to its target audience, but I can't stand to use it myself for more than 15 minutes at a time.

Rick Grehan's preview of WebMatrix in November covered most of the product features well, so I won't repeat his descriptions and analysis. Since then, a few features and gallery items have been added, which I'll discuss as I go along. I've included a handful of screen images at the end of the article.

[ Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 nabbed an InfoWorld 2011 Technology of the Year Award. See the complete list of 2011 Technology of the Year Award winners. | Read Martin Heller's review of Visual Studio 2010. ]

Rick picked on the weakness of the editor and the lack of a debugger, and until I worked with the product myself, I didn't understand how kind he was in the way he phrased his objections. After spending time with WebMatrix, I know otherwise.

Let me be blunt: The WebMatrix editor may be simple to understand and look pretty, but it's useless. Even a good, experienced developer relies on the interactive code completion you get in constructing correct markup and code from a real editing tool such as Visual Studio, Expression Web, or dozens of editing and design tools from other vendors, many of which are free. A casual developer or a designer trying to "do a few things" to a site will be completely frustrated with the WebMatrix editor. Couple that with no debugger at all, and you're likely to be up the creek without a paddle the minute you try to modify a page. (Microsoft disagrees: The company claims that Web developers have been asking for a lightweight Web page editor of this sort.)

That said, you can easily go from WebMatrix to Visual Studio. That's perfect for an experienced developer, but likely to be very confusing for a designer or novice developer.

Test Center Scorecard
Microsoft WebMatrix 1.0678810



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