Microsoft launches hosted ALM service

Microsoft's Team Foundation Service is available at no cost for up to five users

After a year in beta, Microsoft has launched its Team Foundation Service, a hosted version of its application lifecycle management (ALM) software. Its usage, for the time being, has been limited to five or fewer users, however.

"ALM has traditionally been known to be very enterprise heavy, but [this service] could be utilized by people who may not need enterprise scale but could still benefit from tools and services to manage their projects," said Karthik Ravindran, senior director of ALM marketing and management.

There will be no cost for using TFS for five or fewer users, and it can be used for an unlimited number of projects. Subscribers to Microsoft MSDN's premium, ultimate and test pro plans will also get free access along with their subscriptions. Microsoft launched the service in conjunction with its annual developer-focused Build conference this week in Redmond, Washington.

Microsoft did not offer a date for when the service would be available for more than five users, nor how much the service would cost when it will be offered. The costs would be based on a combination of features and usage of computational and networking resources, Ravindran said.

Run on the company's Windows Azure cloud service, Team Foundation Service is a hosted version of the company's Team Foundation Server (TFS) ALM software. The service offers most of the capabilities of TFS, including version control, work item tracking, project planning and management, build automation, and continuous deployment. Building tools are still offered only in preview mode.

TFS supports not only the development of .Net software programs for Windows, but for other languages as well, including Java, PHP, JavaScript and PHP. The service can be incorporated into Microsoft Visual Studio, Eclipse and the Mac-centric Xcode IDEs (integrated development environments).

Microsoft is initially marketing the service to smaller ISVs (independent software vendors) as well as to larger organizations that may want to try ALM without purchasing the software. In the long term, Microsoft will offer the service as a full-scale replacement for on-premises ALM, or to be used in a hybrid mode where code management is shared between in-house servers and cloud services, Ravindran said.

The hosted service does not include all the capabilities of TFS, such as the ability to easily connect the ALM services with in-house deployments of other Microsoft server-based products, such as SharePoint, Ravindran said.

But one advantage that the hosted service would offer over TFS itself is that it is closely tied in with the Microsoft Windows Azure PaaS (platform as a service), Ravindran said. Someone building an Azure-based service can link the hosted ALM service directly with their Azure account, allowing them to "set up a continuous deployment where the bits can be seamlessly deployed into the Azure end-point," Ravindran said.

The service also supports distributed version control, through the use of a bridge to the open-source GIT version-control software. Developers can use their local copies of GIT to clone the code base from the service, work on the code, and then, when finished, merge it back into the canonical code base on the Team Foundation Service. "Not all companies are comfortable with their developers having local versions of all the source code. [Distributed version control] is a pretty common pattern with startups, but it's not common in enterprises," Ravindran said.

ALM software manages the development of software programs across different departments within an organization. It includes not only version-control software -- which captures all the changes of the developing code -- but also includes testing, building and deployment capabilities, as well as oversight tools for project managers and product owners. "Development of the code becomes a team process, especially as the project starts scaling," Ravindran said.

In addition to Microsoft, other companies such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM, CollabNet, CA Technologies and Coverity offer ALM software as well.

Joab Jackson covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Joab on Twitter at @Joab_Jackson. Joab's e-mail address is Joab_Jackson@idg.com

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