The much-ballyhooed launch of Windows Server 2003 next week is overshadowing the simultaneous release of a new version of Microsoft Corp.'s Visual Studio .Net development environment.
Even Microsoft acknowledged that the tool is largely an incremental upgrade to Visual Studio .Net 2002. What's more important is the delivery of the development environment in tandem with the new server operating system, which has the .Net Framework built into it for the first time, said David Lazar, Microsoft's director of Visual Studio product management.
"We think it's absolutely essential," said Jerry Hale, CIO at Eastman Chemical Co. in Kingsport, Tenn.
In the past, developers had to add the .Net Framework to the operating system. Both Visual Studio and Windows Server 2003 will feature the new Version 1.1 of the.Net Framework, which consists of the Common Language Runtime and a unified set of class libraries, including ASP.Net for Web applications and Web services, and ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) for data access.
"Having seen it run, it's going to be a lot faster, and it has richer integration with the operating system," said Kevin Rice, an enterprise architect at Allstate Financial, a business unit of The Allstate Corp. in Northbrook, Ill.
Also setting the new tool apart from its predecessor for Allstate will be the ADO.Net data access capabilities for Oracle databases. The first version of Visual Studio .Net had those components only for Microsoft's SQL Server, Rice said.
Rice is also anxious to use the Enterprise Instrumentation Framework, which he said will help Allstate collect information about application performance, errors and usage. "In the past, instrumenting code usually involved a great deal of external work, and you always took a performance hit," he said.
Other new features Allstate expects to use include the .Net Compact Framework for building applications for wireless devices, enhanced Web services support and code obfuscation, which will help prevent outsiders from reverse-engineering code, Rice said.
Hale said the biggest plus for Eastman Chemical will be the improved migration tools to assist his company's move from Visual Basic (VB) 6.0, since those tools weren't very helpful in Visual Studio .Net 2002. Hale said Eastman selected the .Net development platform for its next-generation service-oriented architecture.
But plenty of corporate developers said they either haven't moved or are just starting to shift to Visual Studio .Net 2002, which Microsoft released 14 months ago. The tool was the first to incorporate the .Net Framework, with its thousands of class libraries, and it presented a huge change for users of prior Microsoft tools.
"We will take our organization there when we get a development need for it and the funding to have proper training," said Carrie Howard, IT project coordinator for Washoe County in Nevada. She said the county's developers know VB 6.0 well.
John Rymer, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said the 2003 version should accelerate adoption of the .Net Framework and ASP.Net, especially for developers of portal, Web and front-office applications.