RealTime IT News

The Shape (and Cost) of Visual Studio to Come

Microsoft gave enterprise developers and purchasing managers a heads up on pricing for its new line of development tools.

Microsoft laid out the new line of Visual Studio 2005 Monday, which is the successor to Visual Studio .NET.

The new openness about pricing and delivery is an attempt to improve sales by giving enterprise customers more time to plan the purchase, according to Prashant Sridharan, group product manager for Visual Studio 2005.

"We've historically focused on the core developer," Sridharan said. "With Team System, we've expanded into more of the IT lifecycle. We anticipate the purchasing cycle will involve more foresight and planning, so we felt we needed to give directional guidance several months in advance. Our customers told us they want to know the price and be able to plan for it."

Microsoft has repackaged functions of the Visual Studio line, Sridharan said, moving formerly high-end features down to the Professional Edition while adding collaboration products under the Team System brand. Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition with a premium subscription to the Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN) will set new customers back $2,499, while MSDN Premium renewal customers will pay $1,999.

"We've taken our Enterprise Developer and Enterprise Architect Editions and pushed all those features down into Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition," said Sridharan. It will contain all the features that our high-end developers now enjoy."

Now at the high end is Visual Studio Team System, a roles-based product line intended for enterprise developers working in teams greater than five people. The line consists of Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Architects, Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Developers, Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Testers and Visual Studio Team Suite, a bundle of all three role-based products.

Pricing for Visual Studio 2005 Team System will vary, Sridharan said, based on the different needs of the enterprise. Prices for volume licenses start at $3,191 including Software Assurance, Microsoft's maintenance and support offering.

The line now includes five Express Editions, to be priced around $49 and targeted at novices. A number of promotions and discounts in the works could drop that price down to free, Sridharan said.

The Standard Edition is aimed squarely at the Visual Basic 6 audience, as Microsoft slowly winds that product down. "It's a very tailored, streamlined product, intended for the traditional client/server developer," Sridharan said. It will be priced at $299, or $199 for an upgrade.

"Microsoft is looking to start the transition of all the Visual Studio .NET users up to Visual Studio 2005," said IDC Research Director Melissa Webster. Because Microsoft has to some extent repackaged the Visual Studio tools, Webster said, the company must be careful to map the products well to its subscription model.

To encourage customers to subscribe to MSDN Universal, Microsoft is offering those who do so now a break on the subscription price, plus their choice of one of the roles-based editions, Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Architects, for Software Developers or for Software Testers. Microsoft prefers to sell Visual Studio as a download on MSDN, Webster said.

The discount for new MSDN Universal subscriptions is designed to encourage existing subscribers to stay current and new ones to sign up in advance of the product release, Webster said.

That's a big advantage for Microsoft, she added: It lets the company even out its revenue. Microsoft has essentially started "selling" Visual Studio 2005 now, although the ship date is months away. "Their last release was Visual Studio .NET s in 2003. This starts the upgrade process now."

Microsoft had said that Visual Studio 2005 would "likely" ship the middle of this year. A technical community preview of Visual Studio Team System was released in October 2004, and on Friday, Eric Rudder, Microsoft senior vice president for tools, promised the beta 2 version was very close.

But the licenses and promotions might be a bit confusing for customers, said Microsoft Regional Director Joel Semeniuk.

"What might seem confusing for a lot of people will be that there's a separate product, Team Foundation Server, that will have to be licensed completely separately. It won't be a required piece of Team System, but it will provide added functionally," he said. "People might have a hard time discerning what they should buy or should they buy the entire suite. And if they do, where would they get the value?"

The Team System product release marks Microsoft's entry into the $2 billion market for application lifecycle management tools, a market IDC analyst Melissa Webster forecast at $3.3 billion by 2009.

Semeniuk, who, as vice president of software development for Imaginet Resources, consults with businesses on how to make their software development more efficient, said the integration of the various elements of Visual Studio 2005 could be a boon to his customers.

"Most of them have a hodgepodge of tools that Team System would replace. Team System is much more than a set of tools," he said, "it allows the tools to talk to one another. That turns out to be very important."

But the collaboration benefits come at a high cost, Semeniuk said. "If people want the true value of Team System, they're going to need to look at Team Suite, which is almost triple the cost," he said. "A lot of our customers are really interested in what Team System can provide -- provided they can afford it."

Perhaps that's another reason why Microsoft has disclosed pricing and sweetened the deal with discounts. "This is the first time Microsoft has come out with a very explicit suite of tools for lifecycle management," IDC's Webster said. "They always had some test tools, architecture tools, some to do version management for small groups. But this is the first roles-based packaging for larger development teams."

"As a vendor of development tools, they have a huge installed base of people creating code, so MSDN is the obvious channel to start to upsell [those coders] with additional development tools," Webster said. "The strategy is pretty good, and the opportunity is good for Microsoft to start to bring lifecycle tools to the mass market."

The characterization of Microsoft Software Assurance was corrected.