Dynamic, interactive websites are what users expect and if you are designing websites, it will also be what the client requires. However, coding a site can be labor-intensive and time consuming. Two Microsoft tools, WebMatrix and Visual Studio, are powerful enough to help you create these sites while improving your turnaround time.
WebMatrix is a lightweight, web-based, web-page builder that is a great introduction into the coding required for interactive websites. Since it is more advanced than a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) program, like Adobe Dreamweaver, it may take some time for a HTML/CSS designer to master, since it requires learning a programming language. However, once mastered, the website possibilities are nearly endless due to the built-in features.
Examples of Features
Microsoft has paired this product up with its Azure cloud service which allows you to create sites in a local or remote environment. Your site can be built from scratch or from pre-installed templates using a variety of language options including PHP, ASP, Node.js, HTML5 or in HTML/CSS. It is because of these various language options that you can create a robust, interactive site.
One helpful feature of the system is IntelliSense, a technology which fills in the programming command or style after you type in the first few letters of the desired code. It uses color-coded text which simplifies reading the coding as it is created.
The software has more than 60 out-of-the-box applications - like Drupal and WordPress - that are accessible and importable.
As you build your site you can easily test it across multiple browsers or operating systems, including iPhone and smartphones.
WebMatrix has a Code Source feature that allows you to clone or import sites or other open source code, a very handy option if the site you are working on already exists on another platform.
Skill Level and Knowledge Needed
Although WebMatrix has simplified the world of coding and eased workflow issues, most beginners will not easily create and post a site with WebMatrix. The learning-curve is different for each person, but expect to need to know at least a basic level of coding to use this tool. If you are comfortable with languages like PHP or ASP, then this tool should improve your workflow as you will be able to spend more time and energy on the design and goal of the site with less effort being needed to write the code.
How to Get Started
To get started, download the free software. If this is the first Microsoft Web building software you have downloaded you will be prompted to download the Web Platform Installer. The Web Platform Installer simplifies the install process for you.
While you can host sites creating with WebMatrix anywhere you choose, if you use Windows Azure for cloud hosting, you will be able to host up to ten sites for free. If you want to use Windows Azure for your ten free sites, you will need to login to the Azure program with your Microsoft ID (if you don't have one you can get one free) to connect the product to your ID once you have installed WebMatrix on your machine.
When you build your first site, you will choose a programming language and decide whether or not to start from a template.
The software is free, and if you pair it with Windows Azure you will also receive cloud hosting for up to ten sites at no cost.
Created with the serious web developer in mind, Visual Studio supports several programming languages which are used to build modules, forms and for the user interaction you've come to expect on quality websites. While WebMatrix permits a designer to deploy a site relatively quickly by utilizing pre-installed templates, individuals wanting stronger debugging options and more control over the capabilities of their site will want to use Visual Studio.
Regardless of the version you download (free or paid), this is powerful programming software with an IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that is complete with code editor, compiler and debugger. Its target audience is professional developers who are comfortable with programming languages like C++, F# and others.
- Express version: The free version - Visual Studio Express for the Web - is powerful enough for many programmers because its standard features, like IntelliSense and Semantic Colorization, are intuitive and speed up coding production. The latest version introduces a new tool - the Page Inspector, which allows developers to reverse engineer a page or make live CSS or DOM changes.
- Professional version: Visual Studio provides additional coding tools that allow refactoring, give stronger XML support and analyze your coding. It also has more pre-installed template options than the express version.
Skill Level and Knowledge Needed
With a target audience of programmers, this software is not designed for a beginner. It is created for individuals who know how to code. It is designed with productivity in mind, knowing a programmer needs repetitive tasks simplified and automated.
- Visual Studio Express for the Web comes packaged with Visual Basic, Visual Basic C++ and Visual C#, but additional languages are supported with available plug-ins.
- Visual Studio also includes a wide variety of visual designer tools to assist in the creation of forms, user interfaces or coding classes needed to deploy a website.
How to Get Started
Download the software from Microsoft's Visual Studio site. After it has been downloaded and installed on your machine, you will be required to register the product. You will answer several questions about what you intend to use to software for - basically whether it is for business or personal use. You will be given a 25-character key to use. Without the key, the product will revert to a 30-day trial version.
Visual Studio Express is free. There are several professional Visual Studio options, with the price varying based on features. The professional version starts at about $1,200.
Regardless of whether you use WebMatrix or Visual Studio Express, expect to spend some time in the coding environment learning the system. To reduce the amount of time it takes to master coding or Web development, visit Microsoft's Developer Network page or their Web Development page.