.Net developers get new virtual workspaces

In an effort to provide .Net developers with a virtual collaborative community environment, Microsoft took the sheet off GotDotNet Workspaces 1.0 last week.

GotDotNet has been available for just over a year after the first launch of Visual Studio .Net, as a free resource for developers to discuss issues related to source code development. However, Microsoft decided to launch Workspaces 1.0 after many developers, who use the GotDotNet Web site, looked for additional help with source code control, said Ben Watson, senior product manager, Web services, Microsoft Canada.

The Workspaces development environment allows developers working outside of a controlled environment, such as an office, to virtually work alongside offshore or remote developers on a common development team.

The company already offers a similar program called SourceSafe, an application that ships with Visual Studio .Net. This application allows developers to work with each other on a common application, with the exception of working with developers from remote locations.

"All the developers can be working on one product and can share the code for the project but can still maintain individual ownership over the things they are working on," Watson said. "It’s great if I’m working inside a company -- a controlled work environment -- where SourceSafe can be deployed and independent SourceSafe projects can be managed for any of the company’s application projects."

Now into the second version of Visual Studio .Net, developers were looking for ways to work and communicate with global development teams. They also wanted virtual team spaces to be built into the idea of source code management, Watson said.

In essence, Watson added, Microsoft is working towards building a more robust version of SourceSafe, but released Workspaces as a short-term application to test the waters. He also said that Workspaces and SourceSafe target different users.

"What Workspaces gives us is an independently hosted, free service for .Net developers to do basically the moral equivalent of SourceSafe with their .Net projects," Watson added. "It’s part of the work of building better team spaces for developers in a true standalone Web version."

Developers have a virtual workspace where they can store all of their source code updates from different developers in one location and can keep a history of all the versions of code as it’s being updated and changed.

The code can be a Web interface or developers can use it as a Windows form client built right into the source control features of Visual Studio .Net, Watson said. "So you can manage your GotDotNet workspace right inside of the development tool. You don’t need to go to a Web site and log in every time you want to work on the application."

To use the site, a developer creates a workspace community for a specific project. Once a developer checks the source code into the established account for the project, code can start being created.

Two developers can be working on the project simultaneously, each logged into their own workspace. Once developers have finished work for the day, they can check their code back into their workspace and any other developer also working on the project will get a notification, and be able to check other developers code within the workspace. There is simple source code control, where members of the project can see which developer has written certain lines of code, Watson said.

The size of the community is limitless. Some of the communities range anywhere from four developers to 250. Workspaces also goes beyond source code control, Watson said, by offering developer tools as well.

According to Watson, an example of this is the bug tracker feature. This feature records the code defect and the work items related to the bug and any recommendations that developers have made along the way to track the progress of the bug as it goes through the various stages with the developers, he said.

There is also community interaction through a discussion forum based on a Rich Site Summary (RSS), which is an XML format for syndicating Web content. News or notices made by the developers is automatically appended to an RSS feed each day and users of a specific workspace only need to log into the project for the day to see any issues happening within the group.

"It’s an ASP .Net driven security infrastructure over the Web site," Watson said. "You can’t see other people’s workspaces -- only the registered members of your team can see the workspace."

Watson said Workspaces is more pertinent for people who are doing Web development or Web Services development. Generally, the types of projects these developers work on are usually virtually teamed.

"If you’re working to deploy Web Services inside of your supply chain than you’re working with developers within your customers or suppliers already, in order to roll our the applications," he added.

Watson said it’s not just a community, but it’s a more formal type of support group where Microsoft senior programmers and developers from the Redmond product development teams help answer questions.

To date, GotDotNet has around 500 active projects. There have been almost 3,000 projects created, but Watson said they aren’t that active.

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