Web Matrix is a graphical application-development tool for Microsoft's new ASP.NET Web application framework. Web Matrix, a free download that includes a subset of Visual Studio .NET's development features, is a great way to get your feet wet using ASP.NET without shelling out the money for a full copy of Visual Studio .NET. Web Matrix requires Windows XP or Windows 2000 and ships with support for SQL Server and Microsoft Data Engine (MSDE) databases. To download the tool, go to http://www.asp.net and select the Web Matrix tab at the top of the page. Here are the seven best things about Web Matrix.

7. Supports XML Web Services


Web Matrix fully supports developing Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP)­based XML Web services. You can use Web Matrix to create Web services and applications that consume Web services.

6. Doesn't Need IIS


Web Matrix doesn't require IIS on the development system. The tool includes a miniature Web server that supports ASP.NET applications. You can use this mini Web server for development and testing, but you can't use it for production applications because it doesn't support remote connections. Production deployments of ASP.NET Web applications that you develop with Web Matrix still require IIS.

5. Simplifies Data-Bound Object Development


Like Visual Studio .NET, Web Matrix lets you visually create data-bound objects by dragging database objects such as tables, views, and stored procedures from the Workspace Window onto the Document Window. The tool also includes an integrated code builder to help you create INSERT, UPDATE, and DELETE statements.

4. Includes Integrated Online Support


Because Web Matrix is free, Microsoft doesn't officially support it. However, the company does provide online support through a Web Matrix community window that's integrated into the design environment.

3. Supports Mobile Application Integration


Web Matrix can generate mobile applications for target devices such as PDAs. To use Web Matrix to create a mobile application, you must also have the Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit, which supports more than 80 mobile devices. You can download the toolkit at http://www.asp.net/mobile/default.aspx.

2. Manages SQL Server and MSDE Databases


The Web Matrix Workspace includes a Data tab that works much like the Servers window in Visual Studio .NET. From the Data tab, you can list databases, tables, and stored procedures; retrieve and update data; and create and edit stored procedures.

1. Includes ASP.NET Page Designer


Web Matrix's best feature is its graphical Web page designer, which lets you drag .NET controls from the Toolbox onto the designer window. You simply double-click the controls to automatically generate event-handling code and move to the code editor.