Last year, in the article "New Visual Basic Editions" I put About Visual Basic readers on notice that Microsoft was releasing new versions of Visual Basic, SQL Server, and a new product that is a little like the old "Visual Interdev". Last week, in the article "SQL Server 2005 Express Edition - The Time is Now!" I raised the flag and recommended that everyone who was interested in their career should install the first of these new products, SQL Server 2005 Express Edition. The reason I started with this the database is that it's really the foundation for serious coding. Nearly all of the help and tutorials that you can find assume that you have downloaded and installed the database as well.
We're going to take a brief look at the second in the series, Visual Web Developer 2005 Express this time around.
As I said, Web Developer is, ahhhhh ... "a little bit" ... like the old Visual Interdev. Everyone who used Visual Interdev to develop their web pages raise their hands. Counting now ... I see three people around the globe who raised their hands.
Seriously, I've seen Microsoft presenters ask the same question in packed auditoriums and nobody would admit to using it.
I have a theory about why this happened. Visual Interdev occupied an unfortuate middle ground and managed to target a market that didn't really exist. It was, as they say, "neither fish nor fowl." If you were one of the three people who actually did use it, you probably discovered that it was an amazingly sophisticated product with real technical depth and completeness. Because it was a sophisticated product, it did take a little effort to learn how to use it. At the same time, it was supposed to be an "easy" path to developing web pages and all the things that went with them, such as scripts.
Most people who really were looking for an easy and automatic way to develop web pages took a look at Visual Interdev and said to themselves, "Hoooowhee! This is for professional programmers. I just want to put my vacation pictures on the web." And they downloaded Homesite instead. The real professional programmers took a look at it and said, "Wow! Pretty cool, I have to admit. But on the other hand, there is nothing that it can do that I don't do already with Visual Studio. I don't see why I need two tools to do one job."
And so nobody used it.
This is the awful fate that might lie in store for Visual Web Developer 2005 Express. Maybe. Time will tell.
One thing that is clearly the same is that you get a really sophisticated product ... and just like SQL Server 2005 Express, "The Time is Now!" to check it out. Why now, you ask? One reason: "Now" is when Microsoft is putting their bucks on the line for the product. "Now" is when they will be giving away lots of support, making deals, and generally doing anything they can to convince you to give it a try. If you decide to take a look at it after the launch, you will probably be mostly on your own.
And it really is a cool product. It's cool enough so that it does stand a chance of breaking out and being the front runner that Microsoft hopes it will be.
For you real programmers, however, one of the first things you see in most Microsoft documentation says it all. When you use Visual Web Developer 2005 Express, "you will be well on your way to building your own sophisticated Web sites without writing any code".
"No code?" Well ... maybe, but coders are hard to pry away from their ... "code". This may be the wave of the future, however. I can remember a time when real programmers wrote in C. Then along came Visual Basic 1.0 and revolutionized programming. You certainly owe it to yourself to find out if codeless programming is something that makes sense for you.
One of the "innovations" is a built-in Web server that makes it possible for you to create and test your web pages on a single computer without IIS using a development web server. Right now, you either have to have the full IIS web server installed or have an account with a .NET friendly hosting service. When I first heard Microsoft trumpet this advance, I asked, "Does this mean you're finally giving us what we had ten years ago with PWS - the Personal Web Server?" (I really did.)
Like SQL Server 2005 Express, the version you can get now is the "CTP" - Community Technology Preview beta edition. It won't be officially launched for a few months. This version is pretty thoroughly debugged, however. Microsoft gives you all the standard warnings about not installing it on a production machine (and that's good advice), but you don't have to be worried about fighting a lot of bugs. You won't find many.