Over the holidays, I built a data-driven website for a family member. It gave me a chance to explore some new Microsoft web technologies and tools hands-on. Here's how I developed, designed, and deployed the site:
I did all my site and database development in Visual Web Developer Express, starting from the ASP.NET AJAX template. VWD Express gave me a rich development environment (with AutoComplete everywhere). It was a snap to integrate ASP.NET AJAX, write all the code behind my site, communicate with web services, and create and edit my databases.
I had very specific requirements for a bespoke, cross-browser-compatible layout, so I did all the design work using Expression Web, Microsoft's new application for web designers. Expression Web helped me, a non-designer, do the site's design work visually (matching a layout I had been provided by the site's real designer).
Using the Accessibility, Compatibility and CSS reports, I was able to confirm that the final site is accessible, XHTML 1.0 Transitional compliant, and contained well-formed Cascading Style Sheets throughout. Although I didn't do my C# coding in Expression Web, the Expression Web environment understood enough about ASP.NET concepts like Master Pages, Menu Controls, and SiteMaps to let me do all the design work visually.
When I was finished the first pass, I needed to upload my site to the web.
Visual Web Developer allowed me to synchronize my site's pages with the remote server (which is something Expression Web can also do). But getting the site data online has been a traditional challenge.
The SQL Server Hosting Toolkit, a free download, was amazing - it helped me publish both my schema and my data to the web hoster by generating a robust SQL query to execute against their database's web interface. It then helped me update both schema and data when I realized (of course) that I'd forgotten a few fields in the schema. My hoster is running SQL Server 2000, but the Toolkit, which integrated itself into VWD Express, helped me generate SQL scripts that worked perfectly against SQL 2000. I was really, really impressed.
So there you have it - between Visual Studio Web Developer Express, ASP.NET AJAX, Expression Web, and the SQL Server Hosting Toolkit, I managed to quickly turn around a data-driven ASP.NET site with AJAX functionality and a bespoke layout. The end-to-end experience was an integrated one that made it easy to develop, design and deploy.
p.s. Total cost of those four tools? Three of them are available free of charge. Expression Web is the only one that's not completely free, and I was using the 180-day trial license. Good news is, I finished the site in a lot less than 180 days 🙂
p.p.s. Where's the link to the site, you ask? My sister is finalizing some of the dynamic content. When it's done, I'll link away, and if history is any indication, probably use this site in demos 🙂