Microsoft lays out tools road map

Microsoft this week at the VS Live conference in New York detailed productivity, scalability and performance enhancements that are planned for the next two versions of its Visual Studio .Net development tools.

The next edition of Visual Studio, code-named Whidbey, just came out in beta and is synchronized to the SQL Server release code-named Yukon. The follow-on tools release, code-named Orcas, is linked to the next version of the Windows operating system, which is code-named Longhorn.

Eric Rudder, senior vice president of servers and tools at Microsoft, pegged the Yukon/Whidbey release for late 2004, but he said he wouldn't comment on any Longhorn/Orcas dates that Microsoft has published in the past. Rudder said Microsoft will provide more details on Longhorn and other products, as well as a CD with Longhorn and Orcas early-access code, at the company's Professional Developers Conference in October in Los Angeles.

At Microsoft's TechEd conference in early June, a senior executive displayed a slide containing a road map that projected the release of Longhorn and Orcas for 2005. The next version of the server operating system, however, was listed at 2006 or beyond.

Few details were disclosed this week about Orcas. A road map merely showed that it will support managed interfaces, provide enhanced user interface features and build on new capabilities in Longhorn, such as its Trustworthy Computing security model, improved collaboration capabilities, integrated data storage, new application model, and presentation and media improvements.

Its predecessor, Whidbey, restores some features that Visual Basic developers had been clamoring for, such as "edit and continue," which lets them debug applications, fix errors and continue without having to stop and compile.

Additional Features

The new tool will also significantly reduce the amount of code that Visual Basic developers have to write for common tasks, simplify data access, build in language and compiler innovations, boost compiler performance, and help developers correct compile time and syntax errors in a manner similar to the way the spelling and grammar checker works in Word.

Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Meta Group, said what's most noteworthy in Whidbey are enhancements to make Visual Basic developers more productive, give C# programmers greater ability to reuse code, and boost performance for C++ programmers.

He added that in Whidbey, Microsoft starts to take an important step away from entry-level, bare-bones tools to enterprise-class capabilities by better integrating version control, modeling and testing capabilities. That will make Microsoft's offerings more competitive with those from vendors such as IBM's Rational Software division and Borland Software, he said.

"In order to continue to drive developer productivity, you need to tightly integrate the development life cycle and build tools that support a collaborative development methodology," Murphy said.

Also this week, Microsoft expanded its newly renamed Visual Studio Industry Partner program, adding two less-expensive tiers of membership.

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Carol Sliwa

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