VSLive Toronto gives developers first look at Whidbey

TORONTO — After missing its end-of-March release date for the latest test version of its flagship development tool, Microsoft Corp. Thursday announced it will release Visual Studio Beta 2 sometime next week. The final version of VS 2005, codenamed

Whidbey, will ship at the end of 2005 — more than a year later than originally anticipated.

The Redmond, Wash.-based company, however, did not make any announcements regarding the release of the next test version of SQL Server 2005. The last version of SQL Server came out five years ago.

Microsoft’s senior product manager for Visual Studio (VS), Prashant Sridharan, made the announcement to 400 developers attending its Visual Studio developer conference VSLive, which made a stop in Toronto this week. The “GoLive” beta, which was originally scheduled for release at the end of March, will be automatically sent to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers.

“Because it’s a go live beta, we had to get all the performance and stress tests right,” said Sridharan, who gave a preview of the upcoming release of VS, which originally launched three years ago. The product includes features for building ASP.Net Windows, Web and mobile applications.

On the VS Web site, developers can make a suggestion or report a bug via the product feedback centre. This feedback will be used to help Microsoft determine which features to keep and which ones to drop. “Knowing what features to cut and throttle back is key to shipping on time,” said Sridharan in an interview.

The VS product line includes express products for new users, standard edition, for traditional client server development and now mobile development and a professional edition for anything a developer wants to build on the .Net framework. Microsoft also previewed a software lifecycle management tool called Visual Studio Team System.

The next release features tools to make it easier for developers to meet businesses’ growing demand for Web services, said Sridharan.

“Web services are becoming more and more popular and more engrained in the operating system,” he said. “Microsoft has not done a very good job in 2002 and 2003 at building Windows applications for Web services. We’ve created a visual metaphor for building Web services applications that will make developing applications easier.”

The Team System suite bundles architect, developer and testing tools to increase the predictability of the software development processes, shorten the development lifecycle and save IT departments time and money, according to the company. The product, for example, features static code analyzers that can tell developers what they are doing wrong in their code, said Sridharan. Team System also features a licensing model for load testing that charges developers per agent as opposed to per user. High costs and low-quality free versions have kept many developers from running load testing in the past, Sridharan added.

“There’s a lot more specialization in roles in an organization and they don’t talk to one another,” said Sridharan. “We had to show people how we can get them to communicate more effectively. Tools are breeding these communication barriers we are seeing.”

Derek Hatchard, software architect at Moncton, N.B.-based Ardent Development Solutions, said his company hasn’t deployed Team System internally and will wait a couple of months before downloading the beta. Ardent develops ASP.Net-based custom software products for medium-sized companies and has done some work for its largest customer in VS 2005 beta 1. Hatchard has already seen benefits from some of the developer tools in VS like refactoring support and an expanded class library.

“(VS) offers a clean interface for setting up something that we have to do for every Web application, which is authentication,” said Hatchard. “The expanded class library means that there’s less custom code we have to write.”

On the Web services side, Microsoft recently announced the availability of a community technology preview (CTP) for “Indigo,” a Web services architecture, and “Avalon,” a graphics and presentation engine, at its VSLive! SanFrancisco 2005 conference.

Indigo and Avalon will be made available on Longhorn as well as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. The beta for Indigo will be coming out later this quarter, said Rebecca Dias, group product manager, Microsoft.

Asked if this will delay developers moving over to Longhorn when it arrives in 2006, Dias said: “They need to be sure that we’re going to protect their customers’ investments. It’s a natural migration path for people, but we can’t neglect customers’ investments at the same time.”

Hatchard said anything to make messaging more secure is good. One of the biggest issues in the past was http data moving across the wire that was not encrypted, leaving it vulnerable to eavesdropping and unauthorized users pulling it down. “Before we were relying on security by obscurity and that’s simply not acceptable,” said Hatchard.

Moreover, Microsoft’s decision to hold back WinFS, a file system with ground-breaking archive searching, has left Hatchard “still waiting with baited breath.” “Every time we go back to Windows development, we have to write bulky code for doing simple things,” he said.

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