MS woos new developers with Visual Studio 'Express'

Aiming to reach a larger audience of software developers, Microsoft on Tuesday announced slimmed-down "Express" editions of its Visual Studio developer tool for specific programming languages.

In addition, the software maker announced Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition, the logical successor to its current ASP (Active Server Pages) .Net Web Matrix offering for beginning Web developers. Microsoft also changed the name of its Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine (MSDE), the little brother of its SQL Server database, to SQL Server Express Edition.

Microsoft hopes the new members of its Visual Studio product family will appeal to what it estimates are 18 million nonprofessional developers worldwide. The full Visual Studio product is targeted at the 6 million professional coders around the world, said John Montgomery, director of marketing for Microsoft's developer group.

"One of the pieces of feedback we received from the nonprofessional segment is that our professional tools are too big and too complicated," he said. "They told us they want something that was very small and focused on just the thing they are going to do."

The Express Editions will be available for the Visual Basic, Visual J#, Visual C# and Visual C++ programming languages and will cost less than US$100. The applications will be less than 30M bytes in size and are targeted at enthusiasts, hobbyists and students, Montgomery said.

To help developers get started, Montgomery said that, eBay and PayPal will provide kits that include sample code to make it easy to create Web or Windows applications that work with their online services.

Offering low-end developer products is a common practice in the industry and an important part of a vendor's strategy to win developers for its platform, .Net in Microsoft's case, said Thomas Murphy, a vice president of research services at Meta Group Inc.

"For both the Java side of the camp and the .Net side there is a battle of who can have the largest market share and building market share starts with developers," he said.

Microsoft not only seeks backing for .Net, it is also promoting its SQL Server database. Developers who need a lightweight database for their application can use the vendor's new SQL Server Express. The software is available free of charge and includes much of the same functionality found in SQL Server 2005, but is limited in size to 4G bytes and can only run on a single processor.

SQL Server Express succeeds Microsoft's MSDE, which has been around since the release of SQL Server 7.0 in 1999. The Microsoft "desktop database" competes with open source products including MySQL and PostgreSQL as well as the leaner versions of IBM's DB2 and Oracle's database product.

Microsoft made the "Express" announcements at the start of its European TechEd event in Amsterdam. The company was also expected to hand out beta 1 of Visual Studio 2005 and beta 2 of SQL Server 2005 at the event, but the test versions aren't complete yet. Still, Microsoft aims to have the Visual Studio beta available by the end of the week and the SQL Server beta shortly thereafter, a company spokesman said.

Test versions of the new Express products are scheduled to be available online by the end of the week, Microsoft said. The products are officially named Visual Basic 2005 Express Edition, Visual C# 2005 Express Edition, Visual C++ 2005 Express Edition and Visual J# 2005 Express Edition.

Final versions of all the Express products are due out with the final release of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005, expected in the first half of next year.

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