Microsoft Offers Sneak Peek to Developers

SAN FRANCISCO — Developers hungry for the latest information on how Microsoft’s future will affect their own products and projects are getting their fill this week.

More than 300 Microsoft developers and partners converged in San Francisco for DevDay 2004 Wednesday, a code fest and sneak preview of upcoming Microsoft products. The road show is also an opportunity for developers to see demonstrations of specific techniques and learn best practices.

In the opening keynote, Microsoft developer evangelist Mark Hammond and Scott Stanfield, CEO of Vertigo Software, gave a sneak preview of some of the features planned for Microsoft’s next-generation operating system, code-named “Longhorn”. Despite consistent reports that Longhorn is experiencing delays, Microsoft and its partners stood by the company line announcing that the platform is still on track for a 2006 release.

Instead, the company showed very early code for technology known as “Whitehorse”, a part of “Whidbey”, the next version of the Visual Studio .NET development tool. Whitehorse provides model-driven design tools for service-oriented distributed systems. Stanfield said the toolset is designed to let operations and development staffers work together on applications, “instead of the systems architect passing along a word document with a Visio diagram to the developer.”

Whitehorse ties the conceptual model to the code, and updates the model live as the code develops. A system architecture designer tool in the platform lets the designer drag and drop .NET services into a diagram, then tie them together; automatically calculates the best route. After the diagram is completed, the distributed designer tools let the developer define the relevant Web services. Whitehorse then dynamically generates code and updates the model to make sure they stay in synch. Built-in security tools enforce policies such as not allowing a call to a Web service. Whitehorse automatically compiles the code and flags bugs.

While there are plenty of other third-party modeling tools, closing keynote speaker Juval Lowy told, what adds the most value to Whitehorse is integration into .NET.

“Microsoft is in the unique position of being able to integrate tools into other things it does,” said Lowy, the president and chief architect of IDesign, a San Jose, Calif.-based .NET consulting and training company.

In line with Microsoft’s new openness about security issues, Hammond said that the period between announcement of a flaw and a patch and the exploit has gone down from 331 days to 25.

“Microsoft is trying to go faster and faster, but it’s not sufficient,” he said.

Microsoft’s new approach, Stanfield said, is “taking security decisions out of the hands of the public.” XP Service Pack 2, which is now in beta, will make some fundamental changes to client computers. A firewall will be on by default, all outstanding fixes, QFEs and customer-reported issues to date will be completed.

Developers were warned that they must test their applications against the XP Service Pack 2 beta. They should make sure apps will work with an enabled host firewall and also test the code with non-executable memory on capable processors.

“You always have to balance usability with security,” Lowy said. “Traditionally Microsoft has opted for usability. Now, Microsoft is trying to make a correction, making things more locked down. Some users may be upset, but they’ll get a more secure system.”

Developers also were reminded that the Java Virtual Machine is going away, after Microsoft lost a lawsuit to Sun Microsystems . Support from Microsoft ends on September 30, 2004, so if there’s a problem with a third-party application, Microsoft won’t patch it. Stanfield suggested the developers move to alternative Java runtime environments, consider alternative technologies and offer upgrades to customers.

Today, an ecosystem of Microsoft partners provide add-ons and plug-ins that provide some of the same automation and functionality that are planned for the long-awaited Longhorn. For example, Compuware’s DevPartner Studio automates the code review process in Visual Studio .NET, finding bugs and examining calls to underlying services to make sure they match policies, generating a model of the application. A company spokesperson said that, as a Microsoft Gold Partner, it keeps up-to-date on progress for the new OS and has access to code that will help it change in sync with the big fish in Redmond.

As another example, Kinitos enables automatic deployment and management of applications on client machines. Its Smart Client Application Management software lets IT control of clients on a .NET framework. Sales manager Lindsey Milberg said his company already is working on next-generation products to fit with Longhorn.

“We have their roadmap,” he said, “and there will always be a way we can add value.”

“Microsoft is excellent in the way it works with partners,” Lowy said. “It tries to educate itself on what developers are doing and educate developers on what it’s doing.” He said DevDays are an example of how the company connects to developers, along with early adopter programs and efforts to help ISVs align their products with its roadmap. “Three years ahead of Longhorn, at the last PDC,” he said, “Microsoft is saying, ‘Here’s the things we’re not going to do, that are a great opportunity for partners.”

Lowy, who has participates in internal reviews of Microsoft’s upcoming products, said that the next version Visual Studio.NET will make developers more productive. It includes C# re-factoring, language extensions, face-lifts on all the application frameworks and new classes.

“Basically, Microsoft did lot of soul searching on what developers are facing today with .NET and tried to improve them,” Lowy said. “It’s a major release, and even lays the foundation for Indigo.”

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