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Microsoft Shows Some Ankle With Visual Studio

Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) has adopted a change in strategy with developer tools announcements. Now, it's providing details in a slow, steady fashion rather than the "fire hose" method of providing a lot of information at once, as with prior launches.

The change has to do with the latest Visual Studio Team System (VSTS) 2010, code-named "Rosario." Over the coming weeks and months, Microsoft will release more info on Visual Studio itself, VSTS and the .NET Framework 4.0. For now, the company wants to focus on improvements in Application Lifecycle Management (ALM).

"For our enterprise customers, ALM has become the buzzword du jour," said Dave Mendlen, director of developer tools marketing at Microsoft. "A few years back, Solo was what they were focused on. Today, ALM and the ability to focus as a team is what people are focused on."

Microsoft has already discussed the Visual Studio tool, but this effort is to expand beyond just the compiler and discuss the team development system.

Overall, Microsoft plans to focus on five areas: riding the next-generation platform wave, inspiring developer delight, powering breakthrough departmental applications, enabling emerging trends such as cloud computing, and the aforementioned ALM.

Mendlen said the other areas will be covered in the coming weeks and months, but would not say exactly when. Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) changed strategy at customer request.

"Customers said they felt like we were always making announcements, and when we did, it came out all at once, making it hard to take in and internalize everything," Mendlen told InternetNews.com. "So we're trying to be a little more thoughtful about how we release information."

ALM has become a more prominent issue with the rise of distributed development teams. Gone are the days where the whole developer crew is in one building. "Even our product itself is built across multiple time zones," said Mendlen. "We have a team in North Carolina that does parts, we have a team in Hawaii, we have one in India, and of course one in Redmond. So we are one of our best customers because we have these massive engineering teams that we have to coordinates."

VSTS 10 will focus on "democratizing ALM" that help the different teams work together and not be so separate from each other. For example, Visual Studio 2008 had a feature called continuous builds, which checked code for errors when it was checked in by a programmer, rather than checking it at compiler time. If it broke the application, the programmer was alerted to fix the code at that point, rather than during the build cycle later.

VSTS 10 expands on that by adding architecture checking. The project leader will design the application to behave in a certain way, and it a programmer starts to construct an app in a way contrary to the specified design, the continuous build function would stop him when the code is checked in.

That way, the architect of the application can enforce their design rules throughout the entire development cycle, and developers don't stray from the original design plans of the application during the coding cycle, Mendlen noted.

Another way VSTS will cross-pollinate is through the addition of testing tools for developers. Testers complain apps aren't tested properly before they get it because developers don't really know how to properly test an application, said Mendlen. A new tool in VSTS will let developers check code so they understand the full impact of their code changes before handing it off to testers.

Testers will also get a "Tivo"-like feature that captures everyone on their computer, from what happened on screen to keyboard entry to threads spawned and processor utilization, so they can figure out exactly what happened when an application failed.

For the hapless developer who has an old project suddenly dropped on his/her desk and has to learn all the code, a tool called Architecture Explorer will give the developer a graphical model that shows a depiction of the app as it exists today. Developers can also make a model of what they want it to look like in the future, so they can do future planning of how to modify the code, once they learn all of it.

Microsoft also announced that VSTS 2010 will provide a unified VSTS Development and Database product. Any customer with Visual Studio Team System 2008 Development Edition or Visual Studio Team System 2008 Database Edition and a service contract will be able to get a free upgrade to Visual Studio Team System 2008 Development Edition or Database Edition.

Mendlen would not say exactly when Visual Studio 2010 would come out, or when early betas, called Community Technology Preview (CTP), would be available.