Microsoft is once again pulling out all the stops. Today Microsoft announced that they have been developing a set of ASP.NET applications complete with source code and documentation. These applications, called the ASP.NET Starter Kits, are also available starting today as a public beta.
Have you used Web Matrix yet — the Web development tool from Microsoft? When Web Matrix released, many questions were raised. How could Microsoft charge this amount for the product? What was the catch? Why was this happening? Does it really work? One question that wasn’t asked was, “Is it worth the price?” Web Matrix was free. Not only that, it worked — and it worked very well.
Web Matrix is a tool for creating ASP.NET Web pages. For the most part, it seems to be a very scaled down version of Visual Studio .NET. The catch for using Web Matrix is that you need .NET; however, since you use it for developing .NET applications, this requirement is no surprise. Of course, the .NET Framework and runtime are also both free as well!
Today Microsoft announced the five ASP.NET Starter Kits. These products will be available to developers as betas releases starting today. Like Web Matrix, the intended price of these products as both, beta and in final form, is free.
Microsoft has made it public that they are interested in continuing their investment in resources for the .NET community. Products such as Web Matrix, IBuySpy, and now the new Starter Kits are all indicators that they are backing this.
What Are The ASP.NET Starter Kits?
The ASP.NET Starter Kits are applications that contain a complete solution as well as all the source code. The Starter Kits have been designed to help simplify development with ASP.NET. They are solution-based products that can be used by new and experienced programmers to create custom solutions. The developers of these products have taken the extra time to provide documentation on using and customizing these solutions. It is these added comments that make these kits approachable.
Each starter kit addresses a specific Web-based solution. There are five ASP.NET Starter Kits. They are:
- The ASP.NET Community Starter Kit
- The Time Tracker Starter Kit
- The Reports Starter Kit
- The Commerce Starter Kit
- The ASP.NET Portal Starter Kit
According to Microsoft, the final release of these starter kits will be free. The intent is to distribute them from one of their Web sites. Specifically, they will be distributed as a download on www.asp.net. There are also plans to provide these starter kits on CDs at ASP focused conferences.
When asked what the objective of releasing these as free products, the response from Microsoft was:
Microsoft’s objectives are to 1) provide new developers a great set of samples from which they can learn ASP.NET 2) provide experienced developers and new developers a great base of code which they can use directly in their application.
Most of the starter kits come with multiple install files. Generally there are three separate install file for people using the SDKs (one for each of C#, Visual Basic .NET, and J#). There are also three additional install files for people using the Visual Studio .NET IDE (again, one for each these languages). Each install files provides the complete Web solution, source code, and documentation on using and customizing the solution. The installation only takes a few minutes. Once installed, the solutions are ready to run.
The following is an overview of the features of each kit:
The ASP.NET Community Starter Kit
This is a Web based community site that includes modules that may be customized for a portal-type application. Features include:
- Content publishing
- Post stories and discuss
- Photo album
- Rate content
- Publish content as a Web service
- Incorporate other content via RSS news feeds
- Other features
- User and Role management
- Skins to customize look and feel of the site
The Time Tracker Starter Kit
This demonstrates how to build a line-of-business ASP.NET application to track time worked on projects
- Create Projects
- Define project name and description
- Create tasks categories
- Create and Track Tasks
- Log work completed
- Track time spent each day
- Create Reports
- Track overall progress
- Track time spent in each area
The Reports Starter Kit
This demonstrates a simple data reporting solution for displaying multiple views on data, creating charts, and rendering any type of data in a Web application.
- Master – details tables
- Graphing/chart creation
- Column sorting
- Updatable report data
- Page break control when printing
- Running totals
The Commerce Starter Kit
This kit is based on the IBuySpy Store sample. It demonstrates an e-commerce storefront application complete with shopping cart, product catalog, and a Web service to submit orders.
- Product Catalog
- Product descriptions, photos and reviews
- Search by product name/category
- “Also bought” and “Popular items” features
- Instant Order Web Service
- Submit orders from any application
- Other features
- User accounts
- Shopping cart
The ASP.NET Portal Starter Kit
This kit is based on the IBuySpy Portal sample. It demonstrates how you can use ASP.NET and the .NET Framework to build a dynamic portal application.
- 10 basic portal modules for common types of content
- A “pluggable” framework that is simple to extend with custom portal modules
- Online administration of portal layout, content and security
- XML based definition of portal layout
- Roles-based security for viewing content, editing content, and administering the portal
- Full mobile support using the ASP.NET Mobile Controls
Each of these kits seems to be fully functioning. They are not perfect. I encountered a few errors when running and customizing them. But then, they are betas.
With these kits, I expect that .NET developers will be able to build fully functioning — professional quality — Web sites in hours. Customized sites will take a little longer; however the amount of time was just greatly reduced if you use these kits.
I know of one project that I’ve been involved with for our local .NET user group that will be starting over today. The ASP.NET Community Starter Kit provides everything that the developers of this project had been working to build. This includes security and customization features. We need only apply our templates, click a few settings, and change a bit of text in order to be up and running with a professional site! By starting over with the ASP.NET Community Starter Kit, this is one project that just moved ahead of schedule!
We asked ASP.NET product manager, Shawn Nandi, a few questions about the ASP.NET Starter Kits. This Q&A can be found at http://www.developer.com/net/asp/article.php/1582581.
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