Microsoft offers Volta preview for Web apps development

Volta, which requires Visual Studio 2008, features declarative tier-splitting for server and client parts, and SaaS apps are enabled

Microsoft released on Wednesday a technology preview of its Volta Web developer toolset, which is intended to make it easier to build multi-tier Web applications, including applications useful in SaaS environments.

With Volta, developers can use C#, Visual Basic, IronPython, or other .Net languages that utilize .Net libraries and tools, Microsoft said. But taking advantage of Volta requires the newly released Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 toolset because Volta will not work with the earlier Visual Studio 2005 release, said Alex Daley, group product manager for Microsoft Live Labs, which is helping to develop Volta.

The preview is accessible at this Web page. With Volta, developers do not have to tailor the application specifically for the Web, said Daley.

"What we're trying to do is make it easier to build Web applications by allowing programmers to focus on what they want to do and automating the how," said Eric Meijer, principal architect for Volta.

Developers prototype the application first as an entirely client application and then use a method called declarative tier-splitting, which allows developers to specify which parts of a program run on the server tier and which parts run on the client tier with a simple, declarative markup, said Daley.

Afterward, the compiler takes care of the client code, server code, and boilerplate code that ties the two tiers, handling such functions as communication, serialization, and security.

"At the end of the day, Volta is the framework that builds the apps so that you can have both the client and server together," said Daley.

Volta will only work with Visual Studio 2008 because it is just built to work with the .Net Framework 3.5 right now, which is offered as part of Visual Studio 2008, Daley said.

Volta furthers Microsoft's software plus services efforts, including SaaS, because it enables easier development of multi-tier applications, the company said. Volta takes advantage of technologies like Microsoft's LINQ (Language Integrated Query) and AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) and automates certain low-level aspects of distributing applications across multiple tiers. Developers can instead focus on distinguishing features of an application.

End-to-end debugging and performance profiling are featured as well. Volta measures the speed and performance of an application to see how it performs on the client and server. Fine-tuned adjustments are enabled, such as moving a piece of code from the client to the server late in the development process.

The secret sauce, so to speak, of Volta is its use of MSIL (Microsoft Intermediate Language), which is the language used to compile applications written in .Net languages. The MSIL-to-MISL rewriting technique employed in Volta takes post-compilation steps to rewrite client IL to run in JavaScript and rewrite server IL to run on ASP.Net. Web services are generated when IL is rewritten to ASP.Net.

Developers can postpone irreversible design decisions until the last responsible moment, thus making it faster and cheaper to change an architecture, Microsoft said.

Volta's multiple language support and declarative tier-splitting make it unique, Daley said. But the technology still is in its early stages of development. The company does not have a set roadmap yet for when Volta will be offered as a general-release product, but periodic updates are planned for release during the development phase.

"The goal is ultimately to work with our customers as we develop the technology," said Daley.

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