Microsoft Touts Visual Studio, Gives Hints At Next Version

The next version of the development tool will include improved security and connections to non-Microsoft data sources.
Visual Studio .Net 2003 will have a number of new tools when it's released next month, Microsoft said at the VSLive conference in San Francisco. At the same time, the company gave developers a peek at future versions of the development tool.

Eric Rudder, Microsoft's senior VP of developer and platform evangelism, highlighted the features in Visual Studio .Net 2003 and gave a glimpse of the next revision, code-named Whidbey, at the opening keynote of VSLive.

Among the highlights of Visual Studio .Net 2003, Rudder says, are improvements in security; connections to non-Microsoft data sources, such as Oracle's databases; and extensions to take the .Net Framework into the mobile world of phones and PDAs.

But Visual Studio .Net 2003, Rudder says, "is in some senses designed to be a small update." Greg DeMichillie, a senior analyst at Directions on Microsoft, a market-research firm dedicated to tracking Microsoft's products, agrees. "Visual Studio .Net 2003 is essentially taking a series of features that you had to download separately, and integrating them directly into the product," DeMichillie said Wednesday.

Microsoft is tying releases of its Visual Studio development environment to major releases of other server-based products in its lineup, Rudder says.

"You'll see Visual Studio .Net 2003 complement Windows Server 2003," which is also scheduled for a spring release, he said. "You'll see the next version of Visual Studio complement the next version of SQL Server, which we code-named Yukon. And then the version after that, you'll see the next version of Visual Studio complement our Longhorn release of the next operating system. We want to make sure that you have the right tools available at the right time to really take advantage of the platform."

DeMichillie sees next year's Visual Studio release as far more important than this year's because of these ties. "Yukon is a critical product for Microsoft," he says, "because almost every other product they makes depends on Yukon. If it slips, other products will slip."

Rudder hinted at some of the features that Whidbey, the next edition of Visual Studio .Net, will include. Among them, courtesy of Yukon, will be the ability for developers to use Visual Studio-supported languages to write applications for the next version of SQL Server.

"Previously, you needed to know T-SQL to write a stored procedure," Rudder says. "We're actually going to take the common language run time and integrate it right into the server so you can write stored procedures in the language of your choice."

DeMichillie sees that as the key to the next revision of Visual Studio. "Developers will be able to use any .Net language, rather than switch to the obscure dialect" of T-SQL.

Other enhancements to the next version of Visual Studio .Net will include easier access to printing, simplified audio, and documenting the code using XML comments.

Also at VSLive, Microsoft announced the current and future posting of public betas of two Visual Studio-related tool sets, the ASP .Net Starter Kits and Visual Studio Tools for Office.

The five ASP .Net Starter Kits, which DeMichillie characterized as "tools to help people make the jump to ASP .Net," include sample applications in areas such as time tracking, reporting, community Web sites (such as a user group or news site), E-commerce, and portals. The beta kits are available for downloading from Microsoft's Web site now.

Visual Studio Tools for Office, which will appear as a beta next month, lets developers build applications based on Word and Excel documents. "This isn't the same as having Office integrated with Visual Studio," says DeMichillie, who adds that Microsoft will struggle, even after the release of Office 11, to move its cash-cow suite into the .Net world.

"Office is a tough situation for Microsoft," he says. "While all Microsoft's development platforms are making the transition to .Net, Office is still based on previous technologies. It will be a struggle to move Office to .Net without breaking backwards compatibility." Until Microsoft moves Office to .Net, "we'll see a split story where Microsoft has some tools to do .Net development on Office. But right now, they're just papering over the problem."

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