Microsoft WebMatrix released: a simple editor for ASP.NET Razor and more, but who is the target user?

Microsoft has released WebMatrix, a free tool for creating web sites for Microsoft’s web server. It uses the Web Platform Installer and installed smoothly on my Windows 7 64-bit box. What you get is a cleanly-designed tool which lets you start web sites from templates or from standard installs of popular applications including WordPress, Drupal and Moodle.


Yes, you can use PHP and MySQL as well as .NET web applications, though the common factor is that all are configured for IIS, Microsoft’s web server.

With many ISPs already offering instant installs of apps like WordPress, it is more interesting to look at the site templates in WebMatrix, though the selection is smaller.


What is interesting about these is that they create sites based on Razor, an alternative view engine for ASP.NET. Microsoft VP Scott Guthrie describes Razor here. It is odd though: Razor is a feature of ASP.NET MVC 3, currently in release candidate phase, but you cannot create ASP.NET MVC sites in Web Matrix.

Once a site is created, you can modify it in the WebMatrix editor.


You can run the site on IIS Express with one click. WebMatrix will show you all the requests as you run, which could be handy for tracing problems. There is also a database management workspace which uses SQL Server Compact Edition, a reporting workspace which will analyse your site for problems, and the ability to publish a site using  FTP or Microsoft’s Web Deploy.

I like the clean look of WebMatrix, and that it is lightweight and fast; but who is the target user? It appears to be aimed at non-professionals; but this is a techie product that will not appeal to users looking for an easy to use web site builder. There is no visual editor; users are just chucked in at the deep end editing raw HTML and C#. There is not even any intellisense code completion. Clicking Online Help just brings up a Microsoft search form. There is no debugger to speak of; you are expected to upgrade to Visual Studio. Which raises the question, why not just get Visual Web Developer 2010 Express, which is also free, and has a better editor and debugging features? Of course you could use the two together; but Web Matrix is not adding much value. Features like the SEO analysis seem to be be based on the existing Search Engine Optimization Toolkit, which you can install without Web Matrix.

WebMatrix has been available in beta for six months, but its forum is relatively quiet.

Still, if nothing else Web Matrix is a handy way to take a look at Razor, which deserves attention. Shay Friedman has a technical introduction here.

Guthrie has a detailed look at the WebMatrix beta here.

5 thoughts on “Microsoft WebMatrix released: a simple editor for ASP.NET Razor and more, but who is the target user?”

  1. I see an interesting parallel of WebMatrix with Visual Studio LightSwitch: Microsoft targeted both products at novice users, but they appear to require considerable technical expertise to produce a finished (i.e., workable) product.

    WebMatrix’s substitution of SQL Server Compact for SQL Server 2008 R2 Express surprised me.

    The high-threshold learning curve for both products will seriously limit uptake, in my opinion.


  2. I agree.

    While MS says they want to target the newbies, their actions speak louder than their words.

    To begin with, all of their materials and examples use C# (yes, I know there is a VB version, but if you are a newbie and reading a C# example with the intent to translate it to VB, you are already too deep in the hole to get out).

    Second, the newbie is really looking for a WYSIWIG side of the tool. All you have in WebMatrix is the RUN button, which can certainly give you a WYSIWYG view of your code, but ONLY if the code is grammatically and syntactically correct.

    This brings us to the next issue: no intellisense (although one could argue that – at least to the newbie – intellisense isn’t terribly intelli and its “help” rarely makes sense). The newbie who encounters the ASOD (ASPX Screen Of Death) more than a couple of times will soon give up and find greener pastures. If this happens, where will WebMatrrix get its sugar?

    A good start, but MS needs to find some real newbies and put them into focus groups. Know thy customer!

  3. I agree as well.

    Microsoft have a strange way of defining what constitutes an “entry level” product for non-techies. I think WebMatrix is about the most user unfriendly application I have come across for many years and quite agree with comments about the lack of a design interface, as well the puzzle as to what WebMatrix offers over VWD Express.

    Microsoft seem intent in confusing potential users of their products by absolutely overwhelming them with “choice”. This must be counter productive, as well as very expensive to have these various product streams of muddy waters.

  4. In a strange way this may be targeting me, and in a high end sort of way. At a minimum it has given me that lightbulb moment. This component, or at least the CMS type editing, is a needed part of a CMS concept I have. I need to be able to allow editing of razor files, but have it not part of my main application. Edit and publish in a smoke test sort of way, consume later in a different runtime application for a reality check. I hope this editor is open source.

  5. I agree with alot of what you guys are saying.

    I’m a Novice coder and I’ve looked at numerous tools and IDE’s to make my learning-life simpler. However, even the “simple tutorials on {x}” are still written by veteran coders who wrap it up with “see, wasn’t that simple?” while my head is pounding from an influx of complex terms such as delegate and function. While I do understand (delegates are still foggy) most of the novice-intermediate code, alot of the article’s goal is lost in the translation and I found myself going off on 10 different tangents to find out what the heck is a function and why is it different than a Method(basically nothing, more of a legacy term).

    That is what beginners are faced with and it’s hard to keep going.

    Not to mention the difficulty in finding a beginner -> intermediate coding book or help in that mid range.

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