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Microsoft is embracing open-source on the web, offering a development kit that targets non-techie programmers.

The company has released WebMatrix, a set for tools and templates for use with open-source PHP apps like WordPress, Joomla!, DotNetNuke, and Umbraco in addition to open-sourced .NET code.

Nearly 40 open-source application partners are supporting WebMatrix, Microsoft said, with templates stored in an online Web Applications Gallery from Microsoft. The Gallery also provides links to more than 30 hosting partners for your finished sites.

This is Microsoft's second stab at WebMatrix. The first wasn't actually support by the company, and it was killed in 2003. The new WebMatrix hit beta in July last year, and in a new and changed web world that goes beyond the 2003 dynamic of .NET or die, it's supported by Microsoft.

Since those dark days of 2003, Microsoft has begun to court PHP-based apps running on its own slice of the web, the cloud it calls Azure.

The goal of WebMatrix is to make it simpler for people to build their first sites and reduce the number of things they need to learn and the steps they need to go through.

The idea is that you don't need to configure your own Web server, manage databases, or learn lots of complicated processes as WebMatrix includes the Web server, database, and framework. Meanwhile, Web Helpers let you insert features – such as a Twitter feed – using a single line of code.

Driving all this under the covers, there's a lightweight version of Microsoft's IIS Web Server, called IIS Express; a version of SQL Server Compact Edition; and Razor - a new ASP.NET view-engine optimized for HTML designed to be compact and easier to learn than the usual ASP.NE MVC. It lets you put Visual Basic or C# code in HTML.

WebMatrix features a lightweight editor that works with HTML, CSS, ASP.NET, and PHP.

"Microsoft's holistic approach is truly breaking down the entry barrier for Web developers," said Umbraco founder Niels Hartvig. ®

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