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WebMatrix
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jducoeur
I know that most of my friends couldn't care less about what Microsoft is doing, but for those who are curious, I refer you to the recent announcement of WebMatrix as one of their most interesting recent releases.

The short version is that Microsoft has finally realized that they *totally* missed the clue bus about building quick-and-easy database-driven websites. In recent years, a pile of open-source tools such as Rails, Django and Lift have come out that make it easy to build small sites; combine those with the rest of the OSS stack like Apache and MySQL, and you've got the best solution out there. MS has utterly failed to compete in that space: ASP.NET is traditionally way too expensive and difficult to develop in to be plausible.

But MS' Tools and Technologies group has developed a real knack lately for stealing the best ideas from the open-source world, and they appear to be doing so again. WebMatrix pulls together three free technologies that they announced last week:
  • IIS Developer Express is a lightweight web server that is far easier to run than traditional IIS 7, but fully API-compatible with it. (And runs under Windows XP.)

  • SQL Server Compact Edition is an embedded DB, again much easier to run than the full-scale SQL Server.

  • Razor is a new alternate templating system with a frighteningly clever parser, that makes it really easy to embed C# into your page templates, without all the messy boilerplate of the traditional ASP parser.
If you're paying attention, that's clearly trying to go toe-to-toe with Apache, MySQL and Rails, respectively. They get wrapped up in WebMatrix, an IDE specifically designed to build websites using them, with site templates so that you can get up and running quickly.

We'll see what it's like in practice. Both IIS Developer Express and SQL Server Compact Edition are explicitly dumbed-down versions of their commercial counterparts, and I suspect that they'll hit some friction due to the jump from the free to the paid versions. But it's a smart move overall: it means that people who are comfortable with the Windows stack now have a reasonable way to build small sites using it; that's likely to improve overall adoption of MS' technologies. For my money, this is probably the best long-term bet MS has placed this year...

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Razor sounds a lot more like PHP than Rails.

Well, it's all a somewhat messy blend. I have a knee-jerk dislike of PHP (I just don't care for the syntax), so I tend not to pay attention to it. But they're clearly trying to play in the "programming language blended into HTML template" world more seriously than they've done before. The Rails comparison is admittedly inexact, since Rails is templating *plus* ORM and a bunch of other things...

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