The Matrix Reborn - Web Matrix 2
Written by Ian Elliot   
Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Microsoft's general web development tool, Web Matrix, has been released in version 2. It not only supports ASP.NET, but PHP and Node.js. It might not be open source, but it is free to download and use. What is in it for us? What is in it for Microsoft?

Web Matrix 2 is a strange web development tool to be coming from Microsoft. It allows you to work with a range of open source, and more importantly non-Microsoft, web technologies. This is something that many potential users would find both puzzling and worrying - but in this case the Trojan horse is all too plain to see if you just look at what it is suggested you do with the website you have created.

The idea seems to be that Web Matrix 2 will funnel users into the arms of Azure, Microsoft's cloud hosting service. However, this said, you can use Web Matrix for general web development and deploy on a LAMP server if that's what you want to do.

Web Matrix is a lightweight web development system that installs and sets things up correctly for you. If you download it then you can basically get started on your web site by selecting the appropriate template, waiting a few minutes while the site is generated, and then you can start coding. A development web server, IIS 7.5 Express, is set up for you and you can generally launch web pages as soon as you have created them.



The main supported technologies are ASP.NET, PHP, Node.js and of  course HTML5/JavaScript. The code editor supports highlighting and code completion and makes it easy for you to work.  Support for Node.js and mobile web sites are the two major new features. You can also use CoffeeScript if you want to. Mobile web sites are supported by the use of jQuery Mobile.

As well as the basic technologies, Web Matrix also supports websites based on many different frameworks - WordPress, Joomla, Ubraco, Kentico and more. Again the huge advantage is that the templates install a configured starter site complete with all dependencies. You simply select the sort of website you want to work with and it is ready to go in a few minutes. Amazingly you can opt to use either SQL Express or MySQL as the database for the sites.

You can see an overview video below:




The main new features in Web Matrix 2 include:

  • Extensibility model lets you write your own plug-ins or use community-built ones
  • Faster install of open source apps such as Joomla!, WordPress, Drupal, DotNetNuke and Umbraco
  • New templates for PHP, Node.js and HTML5, and mobile support for all templates
  • Intellisense (code completion) for major languages, including Razor, C#, VB, PHP, Node.js, HTML5, CSS3 and Jquery
  • Application-specific code completion for top apps like Umbraco, WordPress and Joomla!
  • Simple UI to install NuGet packages
  • Ability to preview your site using mobile emulators
  • Remote view to make quick edits to files on live sites

At the end of your development process Web Matrix will offer to publish your site to Azure, but it also offers other options so you are in no way trapped by it. Of course, it is better integrated with Azure but you would expect this from a Microsoft product.

Overall Web Matrix makes it worth trying to overcome any anti-Microsoft bias you might have. It is a free web development tool that works with open source technologies to create a general, standards-based website. It is free to use and works with non-Microsoft technologies in a very even handled way. It is certainly worth trying out.

More Information


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Last Updated ( Wednesday, 12 September 2012 )