Microsoft eyes Visual Studio advancements

Windows Presentation Foundation-based editor among many improvements planned for the development environment

Microsoft's Visual Studio software development system is getting a makeover.

With the planned Visual Studio 2010 software development environment, Microsoft intends to offer a new editor based on the company's Windows Presentation Foundation technology for visually appealing applications. The WPF effort and other developer-related revelations will be aired Monday at the TechEd developers conference in Barcelona, Spain, Microsoft said.

"We're changing the user interface, the user experience of Visual Studio, for the first time in more than a decade," Dave Mendlen, Microsoft director of developer tools marketing, said.

"We're going to make Visual Studio itself, the application, a WPF application," said Mendlen. The environment will be re-skinned to offer a much more compelling user experience. "We're trying to help the developer feel great about the environment they work in."

The WPF-based editor will offer an "unprecedented" level of insight into an application, presented in context with code in "a rich and easy to understand manner," Microsoft said.

Developers already can create WPF applications in the currently available Visual Studio 2008 release. But the 2010 version would itself leverage WPF. The upgrade would arrive around late 2009 based on estimated two-year release cycles for Visual Studio.

Also planned for the 2010 release is a code-focused enhancement called "generate from usage," in which code recognizes what the developer is trying to do and writes code on the developer's behalf. Inferences are made from code. This feature already is included in the Community of Technology Preview of Visual Studio 2010 released last week.

Visual Studio 2010 will feature full support for the Silverlight 2 rich Internet application plug-in technology. "Effectively, that means for developers who want to use Visual Studio to take advantage of editing Silverlight 2 applications, this will be the environment that has rich drag-and-drop [capabilities] for building Silverlight applications," Mendlen said.

Other features planned for Visual Studio 2010 focus on developing applications for the planned Windows 7 client operating system. Developers will be able to take advantage of the ribbon interface and live icons, which show a thumbnail image of file contents. Developers also can use Windows 7 search capabilities to search the OS for documents, metadata, and e-mail. Multi-touch capabilities also can be leveraged.

"Multi-touch is the ability to use touch on computers that are enabled for touch computing," said Mendlen.

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Windows 7 multi-touch and ribbon capabilities are to be available for both native code developers writing in C++ and managed code developers building on the .Net Framework.

C++ investments in Visual Studio 2010 include a renovation of the C++ IDE to support trends, such as parallel computing, cloud, and Web services. The environment scales to large code bases typical of C++ sources, Microsoft said.

Developers also can use Visual Studio 2010 to develop and debug SharePoint collaboration applications.

"The improved SharePoint support should help remove some of the confusion that we see over how to fit SharePoint development into a shop's overall platform strategy," said Jeffrey Hammond, senior analyst at Forrester Research. "We're seeing very aggressive adoption of SharePoint among large enterprise right now, but the development experience hasn't been as smooth as it should be for experienced .Net developers."

A virtual lab management component in Visual Studio Team System 2010 features a virtual machine for testing how applications would run on different versions of Windows, such as Vista and XP.

Microsoft also is making some changes to the Visual Studio 2008 pricing structure. For example, developers migrating from other development tools, such as competitor tools or Visual Studio Express, can move to Visual Studio Standard Edition for US$199 or $549 for Professional Edition. These upgrades had been billed at US$299 and $799, respectively.

Microsoft also is offering discounts for MSDN subscriptions and for upgrades to Visual Studio Team Edition. Featured are 30 percent discounts for Visual Studio Professional users with MDSN and Software Assurance to move to a role-based Visual Studio Team System product. Current Team System customers using one of Microsoft's role-based products can get a 30 percent discount when moving to the Visual Studio Team System 2008 Team Suite, if they have MSDN Premium and Software Assurance.

"The special pricing offers are going to put even more pressure on other ALM (application lifecycle management) players, "Hammond said. "TFS (Team Foundation Server) was already fairly inexpensive compared to other SCM and change management offerings. Knocking another 30 percent off the unit cost of a Visual Studio Team System upgrade just makes that difference even more apparent and attractive in challenging economic times."

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In other developments pertaining to Microsoft's software development strategy, the 4.0 version of ASP.Net, which is Microsoft's Web site development technology, will spotlight the MVC (Model View Controller) paradigm in which developers can use test-driven development to build MVC applications, which are separated into pieces, according to Hendlen. ASP.Net 4.0 will be part of Visual Studio 2010 and the .Net Framework 4.0.

ASP.Net 4.0 also will feature the jQuery JavaScript library for building AJAX applications inside of Visual Studio. An Intellisense JavaScript engine also is featured. "What Intellisense does is it offers up suggestions [as you are] writing code," Hendlen said.

Also on Monday as part of Microsoft's Trustworthy Computing initiative, the company will offer technologies and a program intended to enable development of more secure and privacy-enhanced applications based on the company's Security Development Lifecycle initiative.

These include:

SDL Optimization Model, for implementing SDL in organizations outside of Microsoft. SDL Threat Modeling Tool Beta, for early analysis and proactive mitigation of potential security and privacy issues in applications. SDL Pro Network, featuring service providers to support developers implementing SDL.

A partner program, The Software Development Lifecycle Pro Network, will be offered, featuring security experts who make themselves available to help implement Microsoft's Security Development Lifecycle effort.