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A Look into the Future of Visual Studio

NEW YORK -- Aiming to give developers a better view into what to expect from the future of its development tools, Microsoft Tuesday used the VSLive! Conference here to lay out the road map for future versions of Visual Studio .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework.

"We want to be more transparent in our road map," Eric Rudder, senior vice president of Server and Tools at Microsoft, told the assembled Visual Studio developers during his keynote.

Rudder said transparency in the company's plans will help customers better plan future investments.

"Microsoft's philosophy is to help developers achieve success with a comprehensive, integrated platform," Rudder said. "As customers deploy successful projects with Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework today, our goal is to provide a road map for upcoming product innovations to help them plan their next winning strategy."

The next version of Visual Studio .NET, slated to debut with 'Yukon' (the forthcoming version of SQL Server), is currently code-named 'Whidbey.' Rudder said the aim of Whidbey is to set a new standard for developer productivity, while providing enterprise-grade scalability and performance. He also noted that the Whidbey versions of Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework will support the latest Web services specifications through Web Services Enhancements (WSE) for Microsoft .NET.

Key new features slated for Whidbey include:

  • Enhanced debugging, no-touch deployment, and the return of the 'Edit and Continue' feature, all geared to enhancing developer productivity
  • Improvements to the .NET Framework that will allow existing .NET Framework 1.1 customers to take advantage of support for 64-bit CPUs, advances in security and administration, and improvements in performance and scalability, without source code changes
  • Enhanced Windows client application development capabilities that give developers new data and user interface controls and take advantage of deployment enhancements to make installation and versioning of applications simpler
  • Improvements to ASP.NET that include new controls for data access and visual appearance intended to reduce code in common scenarios by up to 70 percent; Microsoft claimed this will 'significantly' improve Web site performance while also providing for more robust and secure Web services
  • Extension of mobile application development for the .NET Compact Framework that will allow for the creation of applications that run on the latest devices, including Smartphones, Windows CE .NET 4.2-based devices, and the newest versions of the Pocket PC.

Microsoft said it also plans to "expand upon the unique strengths" of the four programming languages -- Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual C# and Visual J# -- delivered with Whidbey (the .NET Framework supports more than 20 languages).

The company said the Whidbey release of Visual Basic will reduce coding associated with common programming tasks by more than 50 percent, with new runtime objects and methods providing direct access to the most frequently used functionality within the .NET Framework. Also, Microsoft said code editor enhancements will automatically author common programming tasks, allowing developers to "fill in the blanks."

The Visual Basic code editor also gets an overhaul, giving it functionality similar to the spelling and grammar check in Microsoft Word. The code editor will be able to suggest corrections for common syntax errors, and the compiler will warn developers of semantically incorrect code that could cause runtime errors. Other new features include simplified data source design from within the development environment; the reintroduction of 'Edit and Continue,' allowing developers to modify and test source code without stopping and restarting a debugging session; and language enhancements with support for operator overloading, unsigned data types, inline XML-based code documentation, and partial types.

Microsoft is also making broad changes to Visual C++ in Whidbey, including changes to the compiler, development environment, language and core libraries. Visual C++ Whidbey is also intended to allow developers to build native C++ applications for mobile devices directly within the Visual Studio Whidbey IDE.

Microsoft plans to add features from research and industry languages to C# in Whidbey, providing C# developers with "code-focused RAD" which will aid in creating business frameworks and reusable object-oriented components. New language features will include generics, iterators, anonymous methods and partial types.

Visual J# is also slated for new features, including Browser Controls and other enhancements that, for instance, will make J# a full CLS Extender.

Microsoft is also looking beyond Whidbey to the version of Visual Studio .NET that will accompany the next major platform update to the Windows operating system (codenamed Longhorn). Slated for 2005, Visual Studio .NET 'Orcas' will support the managed interfaces, enhanced user interface features, and other new capabilities of Longhorn. Microsoft said these include the Longhorn trustworthy computing and security model, new application model, improved communication and collaboration, integrated data storage, and innovations in presentation and media.

The software titan also introduced the newest iteration of its Visual Studio partner program, now known as the Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program. The expanded partner program introduces a tiered system of Affiliate, Alliance and Premier partners.

The Affiliate level is free and geared to small ISVs, shareware developers and academics. Affiliate members get free access to the VSIP software development kit (SDK), other related technologies, a click-through license agreement, royalty-free distribution for partner integrated products, free newsgroup technical support, and an online catalog listing when the partner has a commercially available .NET-related product.

The Alliance level is available for an annual fee of $3,000, and layers on a one-year MSDN Universal Subscription, access to the program logo, and additional co-marketing activities. This level is tuned for ISVs and smaller systems integrators (SIs), Rudder said.

The Premier level has a $10,000 annual membership fee, and adds eligibility for a Visual Studio .NET redistribution license, eligibility to distribute the new Visual Studio Premier Partner edition, and targeted marketing activities. This level is aimed at global enterprise ISVs and large SIs.