Microsoft began shipping this week IIS (Internet Information Services) Express 7.5, a free version of its IIS web server optimised for developers. The company also unveiled an embedded database upgrade and an open source content management tool.

IIS Express 7.5 enhances developers' ability to develop and test web applications on Windows by combining IIS 7.5 strengths and lightweight web server capabilities, Microsoft said.

Working with both ASP.Net Web Forms and ASP.Net MVC project types, IIS Express 7.5 is a download of fewer than 5MB and does not require an administrator account to run or debug applications from Visual Studio, said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president in the Microsoft Developer Division. The product offers a full web server feature set, including SSL, URL Rewrite and other IIS 7.x modules.

"We think IIS Express combines the ease of use of the ASP.Net Web Server (aka Cassini) currently built-into Visual Studio today with the full power of IIS," Guthrie said.

Downloadable at Microsoft's website, IIS Express 7.5 can be installed side-by-side with a full IIS web server and the ASP.Net Development Server. It works on Windows XP and higher operating systems.

The web server arrives in a week when Microsoft also shipped ASP.Net MVC 3 and the WebMatrix web development tool. Also arriving this week was SQL Server Compact Edition 4, a free, embedded database engine. It runs in-memory within an ASP.Net application.

"SQL CE does not require you to run a setup or install a database server in order to use it. You can simply copy the SQL CE binaries into the \bin directory of your ASP.Net application, and then your web application can use it as a database engine," Guthrie said.

Usable for development, testing, or light production scenarios, SQL CE 4 works with existing .Net data APIs and supports a SQL Server-compatible query syntax. "This means you can use existing data APIs like ADO.Net as well as use higher level ORMs like Entity Framework and NHibernate with SQL CE. This enables you to use the same data programming skills and data APIs you know today," said Guthrie.

Version 4 has been engineered to ensure that SQL CE will not crash or deadlock when used in a multi-threaded server scenario, such as with ASP.Net.

Microsoft's Orchard 1.0, released this week as well, provides a content management and blogging system along with enabling development and management of websites without having to write code.

"Orchard itself is built as an ASP.Net MVC 3 application using Razor view templates (and by default uses SQL CE 4 for data storage). Developers wishing to extend an Orchard site with custom functionality can open and edit it as a Visual Studio project, and add new ASP.Net MVC Controllers/Views to it," said Guthrie.

Also offered by Microsoft this week were Microsoft Web Deploy V2 and Web Farm Framework V2. "These services provide a flexible and powerful way to deploy ASP.Net applications onto either a single server, or across a web farm of machines," Guthrie said.