Microsoft promotes 'smart clients'

Three years after introducing Visual Studio .Net and the .Net Framework, Microsoft on Monday promoted the benefits of the developer tools and demonstrated some of the updates coming later this year in Visual Studio 2005.

Kicking off the VSLive and Windows Anywhere conferences in San Francisco, Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft, also announced two new online information resources for .Net developers: a patterns and practices library and a connected systems business kit.

Throughout his keynote presentation, Somasegar praised "smart clients." These applications offer a rich user experience, online and offline capability and can use local PC resources, as opposed to Web clients that are limited to the browser or standard desktop applications that do not connect to the Web.

"Take the best from the Web client world, let's take the best from the rich client world and boom we've got us a smart client," Somasegar said. Microsoft's Visual Studio and the .Net Framework are designed to let developers build smart client applications, he said.

Citing examples from customers, Somasegar said Microsoft is thrilled with adoption of .Net. About 2.5 million copies of Visual Studio .Net have been distributed, the Visual Studio Industry Partner program now has over 225 members that deliver over 400 applications, he said.

Adoption of .Net connected systems has been helped by Microsoft's work with others in the industry including IBM and BEA Systems on Web services specifications, Somasegar said. "Most of our customers have a heterogeneous environment. ... Over the last five years we have made incredible progress in the area of interoperability."

The keynote presentation included two demonstrations of Visual Studio 2005, one on building a smart client and one on working with a team of developers in the new Visual Studio Team System.

Microsoft gave no updates on the ship date of Visual Studio 2005. The new version of the developer toolkit is due midyear. A second beta of Visual Studio 2005 Beta 2 is scheduled for the first quarter, a Microsoft spokeswoman said.

Looking further into the future, Somasegar also said a second community technology preview of Microsoft's "Avalon" presentation subsystem is planned for March. Avalon will be part of the next Windows release, code-named Longhorn, and will also ship as an update to Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

The new Avalon preview will offer several advances including new controls, improvements to the layout system, performance improvements and enhanced support for XAML, which stands for XML application markup language and is a new way to describe graphical user interfaces in Windows.

Smart clients are the way of the future, said one developer for a San Diego-based components manufacturer attending VSLive. "Everybody is talking about smart clients and moving away from the Web browser interface. It makes a lot of sense, only with Microsoft you're stuck to Windows on client machines," he said.

The alternative to Windows-based smart applications is Java-based smart applications, and those would also run on other operating systems such as Apple Computer's Mac OS and Linux, this developer who asked not to be named said.

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