Currently some of my spare time is spent building an application using WebPages in WebMatrix and Visual Studio Express, which has been fun and given me the chance to look at webdevelopment and quality from a different angle. WebMatrix is a free Microsoft tool that is targeted at hobbyists and developers doing lightweight development, by enabling users to build websites either from scratch or on top of open source sites such as Umbraco, Screwturn or dasBlog. All in all there currently 59 sites to choose from spread across the categories blogs, CMS, eCommerce, forums, galleries, tools and wikies.
The application I am working on is built from scratch, because the requirements don’t really fit with any of the generic systems. For this purpose WebMaxtrix has the option to build a completely custom site using a framework called WebPages which utilizes the Razor viewengine.
At first look when you see WebPages, you might think of classic ASP or PHP, because it also works by mixing markup and code in the same file. I will admit that at first this made me cringe – as I think most professional developers who are used to building enterprise scale applications will. Having read a bit more about it on various blogs over the last year it cought my interest for some specific scenarios. The point to me is that it is quite powerful for quickly putting together applications where the complexity is manageable. So to get a startup on its feet quickly, to do a proof of concept or for those who dabble in webdevelopment as a hobby it can definately provide good value.
I my case it is actually a startup that I am looking to help my brother with – who just happens to dabble a bit in webdevelopment once in a while. So for a guy who understands the basics of the web, but is not familiar with the amount of abstraction that is involved in building an ASP.NET or MVC application, WebMatrix and Webpages seem like a good fit. Having implemented the first couple of pages and a basic structure I am pretty happy - hopefully I won’t wake up and think why, oh why, didn’t I take the blue pill.
And what is Quality?
A word that is often heard when discussing a framework like this is “quality” or more specifically lack there of. For a while I have actually thought about writing a comment on what quality is, because it is something all agree that they can and will deliver, but mostly when it comes time to define it people start arguing. If anything the tendency is that people argue that the skillset they personally possess is what defines quality. TDD guys argue for testability and code coverage, designers argue touch and feel of a site and so on and so forth.
Personally I always think back to one of my teachers who said that quality is to which degree a product lives up to what the customer expects. Which is pretty close to what google comes up with when referring to wikipedia and the definition based on the ISO 9000 standard which defines it as “degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfills requirements”. While I think this is a good definition it also leaves me with a sense that an important aspect is overlooked. As Henry Ford said “If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse". This could be interpreted to mean that the most important thing is guiding the customer and telling them what they never knew they always wanted. So my personal definition is:
Quality exceeds the customers original expectations and fulfills the requirements to a high degree.
At least, that is the experience I want as a customer, and it is what gives me that amazing feeling of victory when we are able to provide it.
Reflecting on the topic of the blogpost I think that WebMatrix and WebPages can indeed deliver quality. I think so for a number of reasons, the obvious ones being if the requirements revolved around speed of delivery or the customers ability to participate with a basic set of knowledge about webdevelopment.
This blogpost has been quite unusual for me, because it contains no code at all! Rest assured though, because my intent is to turn this into a little series of blogposts – I just wanted to lay the foundation. The current idea is that I will look at how deep the rabbithole goes, by digging into some of the building blocks of a WebPages application. Hopefully I will be uncovering what WebPages can be used for, and also some techniques and tools that might be used in other contexts.