Today, Scott Guthrie published a blog post introducing a new web development tool called WebMatrix. If you look at the blog post, and you’ve been doing Microsoft-based Web development for some time, quite a few things will look familiar.

The first thing that looks familiar is the open-source gallery of web applications. That’s currently available now regardless of which development tool you use. IIS Developer Express and SQL Server Compact Edition were both available to anyone who wanted them and can be used with or without WebMatrix. ASP.NET “Razor” was just unveiled by Scott Guthrie a couple days ago when he mentioned that it could be used as a new view engine for both ASP.NET 4.0 and ASP.NET MVC 2, though the tooling for such hadn’t been released at the time.

I think the most important quote from Scott’s blog post here is this one that describes what it is  Microsoft wants developers to think of WebMatrix:

The 15MB download includes a lightweight development tool, IIS Express, SQL Compact Edition, and a set of ASP.NET extensions that enable you to build standalone ASP.NET Pages using the new Razor syntax, as well as a set of easy to use database and HTML helpers for performing common web-tasks.  WebMatrix can be installed side-by-side with Visual Studio 2010 and Visual Web Developer 2010 Express.

From my perspective, this basically looks like WebMatrix is really just a re-packaging of a bunch of stuff that we can already get. I have no problems with repackaging but this is starting to smell like a classic example of Microsoft developing a bunch of overlapping products or tools.

How does one choose whether they develop using the free Visual Studio Express web development tools or this new WebMatrix thing? Sure the pages using WebMatrix can use the Razor view syntax (I’ll cover that in another blog post) but then, they can also use regular/classic ASP.NET 4.0 syntax.

To me, this is just muddying the waters. If I’m “Joe Web Developer” and I walk up to the Microsoft catalog o’ goodies, I am going to be confused as hell. I won’t know whether I should pay for Visual Studio (or get it from my company). If I don’t want to pay, I don’t know whether I should use WebMatrix or whether I should use Visual Studio Express.

Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Microsoft needs to consolidate their web development strategy and make it crystal clear which tools solve which problems, or just make one tool. Period.