RealTime IT News

.NET Gears For Next Close-Up

Work continues apace to bring the next generation of Windows-based development to .NET programmers, with a second beta version of its framework due out in the coming months.

The update follows its recent VSLive show of developer tools for Web services.

As reported by internetnetnews.com, they include Visual Studio 2005, code-named Whidbey, along with a subsystem for its Longhorn platform known as Avalon, and its unified programming model for building service-oriented applications called Indigo.

Microsoft's .NET Framework supports the development of upcoming applications like SQL Server 2005, the upcoming Longhorn operating system and its developer platform, Visual Studio .NET 2005. SQL Server and Visual Studio 2005 were both expected to launch in 2004, but Microsoft officials said they're now expected to ship this summer.

The .NET Framework is comprised of two parts: the Common Language Runtime (CLR), which manages program code execution; and the class libraries, made up of the ActiveX Data Objects for .NET (ADO.NET) classes for XML manipulation and Active Server Pages for .NET (ASP.NET), which are the classes used to create Web applications.

Developers can create applications using any one of more than 20 different programming languages -- though Microsoft aggressively markets its Visual Basic .NET (VB.NET), Visual C# .NET, Visual C++ .NET and Visual J# .NET languages on the Visual Studio .NET IDE . Other supported languages include Perl, COBOL, Java, SmallTalk and Python.

The .NET Framework comes with a laundry list of improvements, including:

  • Developer support for systems using the 64-bit processors, which speed up applications and expand their memory capabilities;
  • the introduction of generics, which allow developers to create classes without specifying a specific datatype, such as integers or characters, making them re-usable. Currently, only Visual Basic, C# and C++ support generics;
  • support for the FTP protocol;
  • network support enhancements in applications, such as a ping class, support for IPv6 , a class to create a simple Web server to respond to HTTP requests, a class that notifies applications when a network card or adapter changes, and class improvements to view system address and configuration statistics similar to the ipconig.exe command;
  • a data protection API to encrypt passwords, keys, connection strings and blocks of memory.

The biggest improvements to .NET Framework version 2, however, are those made to ASP.NET 2.0, according to John Case, a director in Microsoft's developer division. Documentation on ASP.NET states new controls have been added to the Web application classes that allow developers to display and edit data on an ASP.NET-created page without writing code.

Also included is more compatibility support for browsers outside the Internet Explorer arena, with adaptive rendering functionality that automatically changes the markup in the code to meet the specific needs of different Web browsers.

"It's almost a new programming environment -- they have so many new controls and the tools are so much updated," said Peter Plamondon, vice president of technology development at DevelopMentor.com, a software developer education company. "There are so many components that are built in to ASP.NET, like personalization and discussion forums and all these things that you would have previously gone off and developed on your own or purchased from a company like Infogistics that builds components commercially."

He notes the changes made to programming languages like C#, with its addition of generics and VB.NET. According to Plamondon, when Microsoft incorporated Visual Basic 6.0 into Visual Studio.NET, developers were not happy; changes in the syntax and language under the new common runtime in .NET Framework 1.0 and 1.1 required many code changes.

"There's been a lot of effort and interaction with the VB community to try to ensure that this third release of VB.NET lives up to the Microsoft stereotype of getting it right on the third release," he said. "I think that's real important to them to deliver a product that the VB community is inclined to adopt in the .NET space."

Besides the nuts-and-bolts improvements to the framework, Microsoft has a big-picture goal in mind for its next iteration. Case said Microsoft has done a good job capturing the mid-market with its development toolset. And so .NET Framework version 2 is now targeted at the extreme ends of the spectrum: small- to medium-sized businesses (SMB) and high-end enterprises.

For the enterprise, Case said, Microsoft is making its move in the application lifecycle management (ALM) environment, the Visual Studio Team System family of tools.

With Visual Studio .NET as the core, he said, the company plans to add new architect- and developer-level tools, tester technology and improvements where programmers can manage configuration and defect tracking with better end-to-end integration.

"What we're hearing from customers playing with early releases of this stuff is that they're really fired up about how well all the different pieces work together," Case said. "It's going to help them manage complexity, look at flexibility, really investigate cost, scheduling -- all the things that business people and developers are excited about in these tools."

For the SMB segment, Microsoft has its Visual Studio 2005 Express offerings -- single-purpose, easy to use downloads for the novice or evaluator to experiment with and use, like dynamic Windows programming or Web programming.

Microsoft has four versions of Visual Studio 2005 on tap: Express, Standard Edition, Professional Edition and Team System.

Microsoft's .NET Framework v2 launch is expected by the second half of 2005, as well as the latest Longhorn build, ahead of its 2005 Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles slated for Sept. 13 - 16.