Microsoft's Web Matrix reloaded
- By Jack Vaughan, John K. Waters
Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) efforts have taken several turns in recent years. ASP today is a "different beast" than in years past -- a notable change has been the switch out of the system's original page scripting engine, which has now been replaced by the Common Language Runtime (CLR).
As well, ASP.NET now supports a far more object-oriented programming model than the original ASP. But Microsoft has endeavored to offer a broad scale of ASP.NET solutions so that script-oriented developers, and even just plain novices, can get going with the technology.
Microsoft had several announcements for ASP.NET developers last week, including the release of the latest upgrade of its free ASP.NET Web Matrix tool, new ASP.NET Starter Kits, and a new program designed to help ASP.NET developers connect with Web hosting companies.
The Redmond, Wash.-based software maker launched its Web Matrix Project about a year ago with the release of the beta version of the first developer tool designed specifically for developers working with the enhanced version of Microsoft's Web server technology (Active Server Pages) for the .NET platform. This ground-up effort could be characterized as an effort to please the original ASP adherent, while moving other aspects of ASP upscale into Visual Studio. Built entirely on the .NET Framework in C#, Web Matrix was and is a lightweight (1.3Mb, expanding to 2.75Mb when installed) WYSIWYG tool that Microsoft has made available as a free download (www.asp.net/webmatrix).
The update includes Microsoft Access database support, several design time enhancements and other new features suggested by the community, said Microsoft officials. Already designed to support development with Visual Basic.NET and C#, the new version also supports development in J#.
"There is a diversity of developers using ASP.NET," said Microsoft's Scott Guthrie, lead developer, ASP.NET. "The diversity includes scripters, all the way up to people from the Unix world.
"Web Matrix is aimed more at an audience with a less-formal programming background," continued Guthrie, who noted that the new version has a richer data development tool that can access SQL Server or Access.
The new ASP.NET Starter Kits, already circulating in beta, are five sample applications designed for use as reference guides by developers. The sample apps range from e-commerce storefronts and community portals, to data reporting applications. Microsoft said that it is shipping each sample application with well-documented source code to allow developers to begin viewing and editing the Starter Kit's code quickly with either Visual Studio .NET or ASP.NET Web Matrix. The kits are available at www.asp.net/starterkits.
Microsoft officials also announced that the firm is working with several Web hosting services to provide opportunities for Web developers to deploy their applications on the Internet. The company has listed what it calls "premier hosters" on the Web (www.asp.net/hosters). That list includes Brinkster, ServerBeach, One and One, EraServer.NET and OrcsWeb, among others.
Microsoft's announcements came hot on the heels of this year's annual JavaOne show, at which Sun Microsystems disclosed its latest efforts to advance Java as an alternative to ASP.NET. Through Project Rave, for example, Sun plans to release a tool in the fall that offers a simplified, event-based coding model based on Java Server Faces (JSF). JSF is a framework for building Web-based user interfaces in Java that is still under development through the Java Community Process. It is currently in its second public review draft, but there is a functional early access release of the reference implementation available for testing.
Long-time Sun ally and Microsoft foe Oracle Corp. has included JSF technology in the latest version of its Oracle9i JDeveloper tool (Version 9.0.5). Oracle debuted the tool at JavaOne.
Microsoft's Guthrie seems unconcerned about such competitive threats. He cites ASP performance over the years that he says position it ahead of Java's Java Server Page (JSP) solution. Microsoft's ASP tools have an edge, too, he said.
"We have a declarative service control model. You can write code against it in a clean, object-oriented way. In JSP, you must work with code and HTML mixed together. This can make programs spaghetti-like," said Guthrie.
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Jack Vaughan is former Editor-at-Large at Application Development Trends magazine.
John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached