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Microsoft WebMatrix – the dawn of a new era

By Nelson Pires
Updated on

I was surprised when I first read that Microsoft had released an open source software bonanza with it's latest WebMatrix, and it includes the likes of WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and many other PHP based systems. First I thought that it had to be a mistake or a monumental change in direction from the software giant, but it soon became apparent that's exactly what they have done.

The truth be told — PHP is not the greatest of the web development scripting languages out there but fights for market directly against Microsoft's own classic ASP. The move on Microsoft's part may well be because they long abandoned classic ASP in favour of the full fetched ASP.NET which is no doubt, allot better. So there's no direct competition from any of these PHP based applications. All in all there's around 40 open source applications included in the suite, on what some might see as the Company's first sizeable move into the world of open source.

Less surprising is the inclusion of DotNetNuke and BlogEngine.Net as these are developed in Microsoft's ASP.NET but I am curious to find out how easy it is to update the software when new versions are released, or, if it's possible to add other open source projects to the repository.

One key advantage of WebMatrix is the bundled integration of a development environment, web server and database all in one application. WebMatrix will give you syntax highlighting for a variety of scripting technologies as expected, tag completion and hinting for HTML and CSS, it also color codes the tabs based on file type. It's not designed to replace Visual Studio but it does however connect to Visual Studio for when you need things like IntelliSense, debugging, profiling and re-factoring tools.

Other features worth mentioning is the inclusion of SEO reports and Search Engine Optimisation tools that will analyse the HTML output, tell you what's wrong and suggest a fix. Even thou these tools are of the simple nature, it can be of great help to those not knowledgeable in this area, and should prove very beneficial for the start of any web project.

For those looking for a web hosting Company, help is there too in the form of a direct link to 30 web hosting providers from all over the world. Expect this list to grow and competition will no doubt provide great web hosting deals available for the grabbing.

Data storage is covered with full support for SQL server as expected and SQL server compact, plus native support for MySQL. One word or warning about SQL server compact; this is based on a portable database file and as such it has limitations, such as; only one process can access it because for every read/write it needs exclusive access to the file, also it is limited to 256 connections and the whole file will most likely have to be loaded in memory, so this is not ideal for large volume web sites and reminds me of the problems with ASP + Access of 10 years ago. You may want to have the full SQL server or MySQL to fallback on to if your site feels the need to stretch its legs.

Another thing that's not clear at this time is whether you can publish a WordPress site to a non-Windows server.

WebMatrix really makes it easy for anyone to develop web sites, I can now see designers launching themselves into a world of web development beyond static html and css. Beginners of all kinds are given the same opportunity, this might just be the start of a small scale revolution that will become apparent in the months to come.

Being a C# developer myself, I just love Visual Studio too much to relinquish to inferior functionality, but I do love the ability to quickly deploy PHP based sites and for those not able to fork out the high price of Visual Studio, this will definitely feel like a god send.

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