Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Microsoft's Visual Web Developer

Microsoft has a new development tool out called Visual Web Developer. It's basically a mini-server, a mini-SQL installation, and an IDE for doing ASP and ASP.NET websites. As an enthusiastic ASP tinkerer, I immediately downloaded it - it's free.

Here's my semi-live review.

Installed it, let the run-me icon sit on my desktop for a week, double-clicked it. Up pops a somewhat familiar Windowsy IDE; nice readable text in the left column says "There are no usable controls in this group." Oh, an ominous feeling that this will be a frequently seen message. How optimistic in tone. This may be Microsoft's "Welcome to Hell" product. I don't know. I'm going in blind. Saints be with us.

An ominous little popup in the lower-right, in the "look at me! look at me!" section of the UI. "Help us make it better! Click here to sign..." Oh help me God. They just gave me the thing and already they want my help on making it better. No, thanks, little dialog, go away.

Another. "You have 4 days left to register!" OK. Thank you. That actually is a message I don't mind seeing - if I never see it again. The reviewer bestows a happy face, contingent on that condition. "Click here." No thanks, you information omnivore. (Later - the message keeps coming back. Happy face withdrawn.)

Now I have a nice start page here with recent projects, a window that says "getting started" and has links on how-to topics. Nice. Thank you! One more happy face - assuming I can eventually send this box away. (Later - Yes, I can, with no trouble.)

Can I put up an active server page with this tool in, say, 30 minutes? Let's find out.

Click Create Web Site. Select "ASP Web Site". Hourglassing. Big HTMLy editor.

Messy interface, not intuitive. Showing me some ugly code. OK, let's cheat and read the instructions. Loading tutorial.

OK, figured out a few things. My test site will just post this review text from a text file. Simple, easy, obvious. About ready to hit "Go" on it.

Seven minutes left. Not quite there.

OK, to heck with looking at the tutorial, I'm just writing straight VB. It's their darn job to make the stuff run.

It works! Very nice.

Until we hit the Gigantic Brick Wall of Death. I've written the mini-site (which does nothing interesting), it compiles and runs on my machine using my little pretend servers. OK, I have a couple different domains where I can run ASP applications. Let's upload it there. No go - it crashes with useless "configuration file is wrong" errors. Check the help - pretty much bupkis on how to sync this up to a live site somewhere.

Look, Microsoft, being able to run on my local machine is wonderful. It's what made this product attractive in the first place. But that's worthless without a simple and transparent way to put it up on the real web. The editor I currently use for writing ASP bites for that purpose - but it has one-button freakin' publishing, which makes up for a lot of deficits.

Add a "publish me" wizard (or even a difficult-to-configure one-time setup process) so that I can develop an ASP site locally and then hit "publish" to send it live, transparently and without a lot of futzing around, and you've got a major winner here, Microsoft. Until that happens, this goes right into the round file. I just don't have the time.

UPDATE: There is a publishing's just not available in the "Express" edition which is free. OK, you thieving bastiches, how do I get my hot little hands on the non-Express version? From the looks of things, I have to get Visual Studio. $300. To heck with that!

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