Recently I’ve been involved with Microsoft on a piece of software called WebMatrix. It’s a rather obscure little program, and even those in the web development industry have probably never heard of it.
Monday I visited Microsoft for WebMatrixFest. A small gathering of the Microsoft team responsible for the software and about a dozen developers who work on open source platforms. First, thank you so much to the folks at Microsoft for putting the event together and for doing such a great job. It was a real pleasure meeting the team and getting to meet some more folks to network with. To the folks at Microsoft, none of this is personal, you were all awesome. This is just one guys opinion of a piece of software.
According to Microsoft, WebMatrix is:
…a free web development tool from Microsoft that includes everything you need for website development. Start from open source web applications, built-in web templates or just start writing code yourself. It’s all-inclusive, simple and best of all free. Developing websites has never been easier.
“Developing web sites has never been easier.” Those are some pretty bold words and in this developers opinion, WebMatrix does the complete opposite. After using and testing WebMatrix, all I can think of is Tom Hanks in the movie Big, specifically the scene where he keeps repeating “I don’t get it.” Here is the scene in Spanish.
Now to explain WebMatrix, I have to get geeky (if you have any questions, please leave a comment).
- So, the idea behind WebMatrix is that it allows someone (I’m still really not sure who) to install a local copy of a variety of open source and .NET applications like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or more natively DotNetNuke.
- In theory, with just a few clicks, you could be running Joomla on your home computer.
- Once you’ve got this local copy running, WebMatrix allows you to edit the code or access the database.
- Finally, you’ve made all your code changes and your new Joomla site is awesome, WebMatrix will help you publish the whole thing to your web host.
Now, if you understood all of that, you probably don’t need WebMatrix. You probably already have a set of tools you like to accomplish most, if not all of those tasks. On top of that, the need to run locally is totally contrary to Microsoft’s own direction but I’ll talk more about that in a minute. First, let me tell you why WebMatrix will not be a part of my tool kit.
Ask yourself these questions.
- Why do I need to run a copy of the web site locally?
- What advantage do I have of putting a copy of the whole site on my personal computer?
- Why do I want to install several applications that need to be monitored and patched for security or to make sure I’ve got the latest version?
I keep asking myself these questions, and I just can’t come up with answers. I don’t get it. See – the alternative just makes so much more sense – develop on the server.
- Regardless of the platform, developing on the server ensures your code is working in its live environment.
- Since drive space is generally no longer a factor and servers can obviously host unlimited domains, where is the downside in developing code on the server. Simply create a temporary domain, secure it as you see fit, and work away.
- When your code is on the server, the server admin deals with security, patching etc leaving you to not worry about it. Plus, why clutter up your computer with a bunch of software. Just because hard drive space is cheap doesn’t mean you want to take off those vacation photos to try out a new WordPress site or instal MySQL.
See – I geeked out again. That’s because when I describe what WebMatrix does and why it seems useless, I just sound like a nerd. The tool would be SO far out of the average PC users comfort level that they would just shut it off and say it was too complicated and they would be 100% right. Someone asked the Microsoft team who this product was for and sadly, they didn’t really give an answer. If even Microsoft doesn’t know who the software is for, doesn’t that say something?
Let’s just say for the sake of argument that WebMatrix is for me, the developer, it faces massive competition. At WebMatrixFest I heard Netbeans, Dreamweaver and command line editing as some of the most popular tools. Command line editing! That guy is so hard core he’s never going to use a GUI from Microsoft. Quite frankly, is Microsoft prepared to throw down and compete with other established programs including its own Visual Studio?
Again, sticking with the theory that this is for me the developer, the other issue is WebMatrix is adding to many steps to the process. Many hosting companies now offer one click installations on many of the same packages WebMatrix offers. If I run the install from my hosting provider, I just saved a bunch of time not uploading the same files my host already has on the server. I can let my host have the most up-to-date version so I don’t have to. All that saves me time and effort.
In the end, I feel like WebMatrix missed its day. If it had come out 5 years ago it could have been really awesome. Now, it just adds another layer of work and on top of that, work that is more easily done with other solutions. To me, that is a loose – loose proposition. In my opinion – at the moment – WebMatrix is far too complicated for the average home user. It would need to be so dummied down that it may not even resemble the same program. Lastly, and most importantly, the idea of working on a local computer is actually contrary to Microsoft’s own bigger picture strategy – the cloud.
I’ve already written what feels like a book here, so I’m going to save the cloud and Azure for tomorrow, but I’ll say this. I’m excited. Azure looks super sexy and although I need to do some research, looks priced right. The irony is Azure is the very reason WebMatrix is a waste of time. Can’t wait to share more later.
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