If you visited the new Microsoft Web Platform site yesterday, you would have noticed that we’ve performed a radical overhaul of the site, with a fresh new look and articles and media content aggregated from popular external and Microsoft sites. This new portal offers a central location for Web professionals to learn about the various technologies and products that comprise the Microsoft Web Platform.

What is the Microsoft Web Platform, you say? Well at its foundation, there is Windows Server and Internet Information Services providing the most reliable, secure and interoperable platform for high-performance, scalable, and interactive Web applications and services. And whereas IIS 7.0 has extensive integration with ASP.NET right out of the box, it is also the ideal platform for PHP applications, which is enabled by the new FastCGI module that ships with IIS 7.0. In fact, PHP applications can even take advantage of the integrated processing pipeline to avail of Forms Authentication, output caching and other features.

And through its integration with the .NET Framework, IIS offers an extensible architecture that means we (and you!) can develop and release great new functionality like Secure FTP, URL Scan 3.0, Web Playlists, Application Request Router and URL Rewriter, to name but a few IIS Extensions we’ve made available in pre-release or final form these last few months. In fact, integration is a key principle at play here, with the Microsoft Web Platform offering integrated design and development tools like Microsoft Expression and Visual Studio, and then delivering unparalleled data access integration between Visual Studio and SQL Server. And of course, with technologies like AJAX built into ASP.NET, and the forthcoming Silverlight V2 being a fully supported technology within Visual Studio and the .NET Framework, it’s clear that the Microsoft Web Platform is the only true platform with end-to-end integration.

If anything, the one criticism that is sometimes offered against our platform is that if it’s so well integrated, why does one have to go to so many different places to obtain the various components? Well, hang on to your hats, because if you look in the top right-hand corner of that new Web site I just mentioned, you’ll find a link to the Microsoft Web Platform Installer beta (or “Web PI” – like Magnum PI but without the moustache), a new tool that will download and install all of the various Microsoft Web Platform components (or whatever subset you choose) on your development machine or Web server.

Sure, you can use Server Manager in Windows Server 2008 to install the various IIS 7.0 and ASP.NET components, but Web PI also downloads and installs IIS Extensions, SQL Server 2008 Express, Visual Web Developer 2008 Express SP1, the .NET Framework 3.5 SP1, and even the SQL Server Driver for PHP. So you can click one button, and then go and make yourself a nice cup of tea while your development environment or Web server is set up for you.

This is only our first beta of Web PI – in the coming weeks and months, we’ll release updates to it that offer additional functionality to allow you to set up Web applications on top of your new platform so that there’s nothing left for you to do but make your site live. And even when we release the final build, we’ve made sure to use an extensible manifest model for Web PI so that we’ll be able to include new IIS Extensions, application engines and software updates as they become available without you having to download a new version of the tool – it will automatically list what’s new.

We’d love to hear what you think of Web PI, so we’ve set up a Forum where you can discuss it. Let us know what you like, what you don’t like, or what you would like to see us include in there and we’ll take your feedback on board.

David Lowe.