LOS ANGELES — Canadian .Net developers say that by taking some of the grunt work out of Visual Studios, Microsoft is helping them push the limits of what they can do with application code.

Visual Studios 2003 was released in April of this year, but

the next version, codenamed Whidbey, isn’t far behind — a beta version of the product is due next year. At Microsoft Professional Developers Forum, attendees saw Whidbey whittle down some applications from thousands of lines of code to just a handful. For practical applications like printing, Whidbey should cut code in half.

Productivity enhancements to the Visual Studios toolkit are designed to allow developers to focus on crux issues like transaction processing instead of “”plumbing”” code like communications and security, said Microsoft Canada’s Lenny Louis, product manager for .Net developer tools.

Developers will be able hone in on the finer points of making applications work together, said John Hazell, solutions developer with Cyence International, based in Burlington, Ont. “”If we can streamline the development time, we can get more of what we need on the front end.””

Kate Gregory, principal with consulting firm Gregory Consulting Ltd., based in Peterborough, Ont., acknowledged that Whidbey will help developers make the most of their time, but enhancements to Visual Studio won’t make .Net development child’s play. “”You’re not going to be able to bring in a bunch of 10-year-olds to drag and drop (code),”” she said.

Gregory pointed out that those thousands of code lines that Whidbey promises to remove aren’t being re-written for every new application produced today; they’re just standard pieces that can be pasted in. But taking them from the equation does reduce a degree of complexity and allows developers to focus on building more and better applications.

IDC Canada Ltd. analyst David Senf agreed that Whidbey may present developers with more options, not the least of which is allowing a greater degree of device flexibility. Simplified coding should allow applications to be ported over to mobile devices, he said, which in turn may help drive mobile adoption.

A central tenet of .Net is that it will build on a company’s existing infrastructure rather than attempt to replace it. “”No one’s going to pay me to throw away everything,”” said Gregory. She cited the example of a client in Dallas that still uses languages like C++. “”They could no longer throw that away than they could set fire to their office building.””

A relative newcomer to .Net is Connie August, who uses Visual Studios at Agfa Informatics, where she supervises software development. Waterloo, Ont.-based Agfa specializes in developing applications to allow medical professionals to make clearer diagnoses of images produced by CAT scans and ultrasound scans. Agfa was a Unix shop running Sun Microsystems Solaris, but recently made a choice between moving forward with J2EE or .Net tools.

A technical evaluation demonstrated no clear winner between the two technologies, she said, but Agfa settled on .Net for business reasons like return on investment (ROI) and a shorter learning curve.

Since Agfa deals with patient records, August is concerned with how upcoming Canadian privacy legislation will effect her business. Much of that is wrapped in how Microsoft intends to address security issues in .Net. She said that Microsoft’s renewed commitment to security at PDF 2003 is reassuring.

“”The focus on security and having that ingrained at different levels . . . gives me a little more confidence that developers are more aware of security concerns,”” she said. A tighter security layer in .Net means she won’t have to hire a specialist to comb over every line of code for potential security pitfalls, she added.

Ben Watson, Microsoft Canada’s national manager for developer and platform technology, stressed that developers should only expose what’s absolutely necessary and run code through a threat model before deploying it.

“”Even the most secure technology can be comprised by poor decisions”” like human errors and gaps in policy, said Senf. “”It’s how we use the technology that makes it secure or not secure.””

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