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Microsoft is pitching a new development tool at non-professional developers who want to make use of the features of .NET. The new tool, known as the Web Matrix project, offers all of the basic single-user features that would be expected and doesn't have some of the management features that are to be found in Visual Studio .NET.

The idea is to provide a simple and easy to use development tool that will promote the use of .NET at all levels and also engender the idea of a development community where individuals help each other to come up with solutions. Web Matrix is available free of charge as a relatively small 1.2 MB download.

The key element of the product is the ASP .NET Page Designer. This is a WYSIWYG designer with all the usual drag and drop facilities for moving controls into position and for customising the properties. These are tied into support for both SQL and MSDE databases that link data to the web forms.

The basic code required to tie data to the application GUI is generated automatically or with the assistance of code builders. Those that like to code can add their own functionality in the standard way. All of the web services extensions, XML and SOAP, are supported through control properties and the XML allows links through to a wide variety of devices to be established.

Web Matrix comes with its own lightweight web server so that applications can be tested easily. There is also a gateway through to the ASP .NET online community so that developers can share their thoughts and solve problems through the newsgroups.

This is an interesting development. Microsoft is keenly aware that the emphasis for the web services market is moving away from the infrastructure and onto the development environment. So far, it has concentrated on bringing .NET into the corporate world but Web Matrix is going to allow it offer .NET access to the extraordinarily large community that prefers simple editors such as Notepad to a full IDE.

Whether or not Web Matrix will tempt these hardened coders is questionable but it will appeal to those who code for fun in the evenings and at weekends. More importantly, though, this is a free tool that will find favour in our educational establishments. There is a strong likelihood that, a few years from now, universities will be turning out graduates who are already skilled in the use of Microsoft technology.

Clearly, this knowledge of the .NET framework will filter through into the business environment as they take up work or set up their own businesses. Microsoft can expect to gain in the long-run and it has proved, yet again, that it knows how to drive the market towards its technology.

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