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Microsoft to Debut Whidbey Beta

With a maelstrom of legal battles, security issues and product delays swirling around it, Microsoft is taking time out this week to reconnect with its developer base in San Francisco.

As previously reported the Redmond, Wash.-based software vendor is expected to distribute a beta-style working version of its Visual Studio toolbox for its .NET environment (code-named Whidbey).

Microsoft is currently in overdrive, with its .NET strategy as it prepares for the next two major waves of platforms Whidbey/Yukon and Longhorn. Company chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates is scheduled to address developers about the company's advancements and call on code writers to stay the course and keep the faith.

The keynote is part of a three-show event -- Microsoft's Mobile Developers Conference, VSLive! and AVIOS-SpeechTEK. The company is expected to unveil new ways to build applications for the Web, Microsoft Windows Mobile-based Pocket PCs, smartphones and speech technologies.

Ari Bixhorn, Microsoft's product manager for Visual Studio .NET, told internetnews.com a more mature build will find its way into developer's hands.

"At VSLive, we'll release," Bixhorn said last month. "I don't have an official name for it. It will be an updated version." The release pattern marks a more incremental approach than Microsoft's traditional beta-and-release model.

"Over the course of the product cycle, we're trying to release builds to customers on a more frequent basis," Bixhorn said. The idea is to enable developers to uncover bugs and help Microsoft ensure that Whidbey is ready for prime time when it hits the streets.

MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) subscribers have had access to the technical preview of much of the software since October last year, but the event is expected to serve as a chance to get a sneak peek at the Visual Studio .NET development tool (code-named Whidbey). The final edition is expected to include a set of modeling tools that Microsoft calls "Whitehorse." The technology aims to solve common development problems with a three-pronged approach:

  • A service-oriented application (SOA) designer that taps into Microsoft's idea of a federated Web services infrastructure.
  • A modeling tool that IT and network architects can use to map out all the resources within a data center, including hubs and routers, applications, and any rules or restrictions.
  • A design tool that lets developers test and validate their applications as early as the first draft -- long before it gets plugged into a network.

Microsoft's obstacle has been production delays to the development platforms. Citing "quality requirements," the company says it will deliver the first beta of Visual Studio "Whidbey" sometime before the end of this June with a second beta due out by the end of the year. The full-blown version for end-users is targeted for the first half of 2005, several months beyond the earlier frame of 2004. The company said it is still on track to deliver its second beta for SQL Server 2005 (code-named Yukon) in the first half of 2004.

One thing that has helped Microsoft, according to Burton Group senior analyst Peter O'Kelly is Microsoft's support of XML and Web services-related standards and initiatives, including several "co-opetiton" partnerships with vendors such as BEA and IBM .

"Microsoft has been involved in industry standard initiatives for many years, but it has also impacted its product line," O'Kelly said in a report issued earlier this month. "This has necessitated projects, such as the Web Services Enhancements (WSE) for Visual Studio .NET, to address the needs of developers who wish to exploit the latest WS-I recommendations between major releases of Visual Studio .NET."

O'Kelly said Microsoft's current product family less than halfway toward what he calls "full .NET-ification". Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework, released during early 2002, were the first fully .NET products. Developers quickly became familiar with the .NET Framework for Web applications and services (ASP.NET), data access (ADO.NET), and for building Windows applications (Windows Forms).

Microsoft's challenge now, he says, is to get developers up to speed with its developing platforms, namely Whidbey, Yukon and Longhorn.

"I think most of the developer community is already overwhelmed with Microsoft's plans for Whidbey/Yukon and Longhorn, so I don't think it would be helpful for the company to introduce additional new product plans or strategies at this point," O'Kelly said.