Microsoft's new ASP.NET Web Matrix has plenty to offer.

In the past two issues of Windows Web Solutions UPDATE, I've discussed the power and ease with which Visual Studio .NET helps you build Microsoft .NET applications. In this issue, I discuss a new release from Microsoft that many people believe is much more interesting and even easier to use than Visual Studio .NET. On June 17, Microsoft publicly released ASP.NET Web Matrix on the Microsoft ASP.NET Web site ( http://www.asp.net ). ASP.NET Web Matrix is a free, lightweight, easy-to-use tool for developing Web applications with ASP.NET. ASP.NET Web Matrix is great for building small Web sites and hobby applications. If you've never tried ASP.NET, ASP.NET Web Matrix uses a series of tutorials to get you started and links to the ASP.NET community, which can quickly answer your questions. ASP.NET Web Matrix's 1MB download includes a WYSIWYG Web forms designer.

Microsoft made a bold move by releasing ASP.NET Web Matrix free of charge. The company has never released a developer tool or any product of this magnitude for free before. Clearly, Microsoft is aiming the product at professional developers as well as entry-level, high-school-age, and college-age developers who might have migrated to Java because of their schools' curriculum. Additionally, a link to download Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE), which is the free runtime version of Microsoft SQL Server, is available on the ASP.NET Web Matrix download page.

In the June 13, 2002, issue of Windows Web Solutions UPDATE, I wrote that because Visual Studio .NET is so easy to use, technologists outside the realm of software development are beginning to use the tool to build prototypes and pilot projects. Many readers sent me email messages asking me how to acquire Visual Studio .NET. The .NET Framework is a free download, but Visual Studio .NET isn't; all versions of Visual Studio .NET are quite expensive. Users who tried the tool complained about having to pay for the developer tool in addition to the server licensing. Microsoft seems to have heard those complaints, and the company's response is the free release of ASP.NET Web Matrix.

One of my first questions when I heard about ASP.NET Web Matrix was about its apparent market position in relation to Visual Studio .NET. Here's my paraphrase of Microsoft's explanation of the product's positioning: Visual Studio .NET is a great tool for professional developers, and ASP.NET Web Matrix was built with hobbyist developers in mind. ASP.NET Web Matrix concentrates on Web application development in single-developer environments, doesn't provide support for team-based development, and doesn't support features such as IntelliSense (i.e., syntactical completion of words while typing) and debugging. ASP.NET Web Matrix provides a very fast way to build ASP.NET applications that you can later upgrade to Visual Studio .NET. Microsoft has promised to provide an upgrade wizard in future ASP.NET Web Matrix versions.

The ASP.NET Web Matrix product is built entirely on the .NET Framework in the C# programming language, which helps prove that .NET applications are for real; more .NET applications are appearing on the market every day. In the future, I'll cover specific aspects of using ASP.NET Web Matrix to build ASP.NET applications because, at first glance, this product seems too good to be true and even has some features that Visual Studio .NET doesn't.