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Visual Studio .NET: Focus is on moving VB 'up to objects'

Microsoft's release of the latest version of its flagship application development environment was somewhat overshadowed by the simultaneous launch of its Windows Server 2003 platform. But the new IDE offers Windows developers some important new features (and a few bug fixes) that deserve their own spotlight.

Among the company's initiatives is an effort to upgrade the skills of Visual Basic developers to encompass the purer, object-oriented methods favored in the .NET space.

Microsoft is billing Visual Studio .NET 2003 as "the comprehensive tool for rapidly building Microsoft .NET-connected applications for Microsoft Windows and the Web." The new IDE comes in three editions -- Professional, Enterprise Developer and Enterprise Architect -- and each comes with features for a range of developers.

"Integration" is a watchword with this release, and Microsoft is positioning its Windows Server 2003 OS as an application environment "in which to build, deploy, manage, and run XML Web services."

The IDE's new managed data providers are designed to give developers data controls for easy connections to OLE DB and ODBC data sources, including Microsoft's SQL Server and Access, as well as Jet, DB2 and Oracle.

If there is a feature set the Microsofties are pushing, it is the enhanced upgrade technology included in all versions of the new IDE. With this release, the Redmond, Wash.-based software maker is also reaching out to its developer community, with special consideration for early VS.NET 2002 adopters in the form of an attractive upgrade price of $29. "The people who bought [the] 2002 [version] bet with us early," Marie Huwe, general manager of .NET developer products, told Programmers Report. "We spent four years re-plumbing the entire .NET framework based on XML, and we built a whole new toolset to go along with it. So, in many ways, 2002 was a Version 1 for them. Now we have a new and improved Version 2, and we wanted to say thank you to those developers."

The idea was to make the upgrade for existing VS.NET 2002 users "a no-brainer," explained Ari Bixhorn, lead product manager for Visual Studio .NET, from both a price and a technology perspective. "We made sure that all of your 2002 projects will open up seamlessly in 2003," he said.

The improved upgrade wizard enables developers to migrate up to 95% of existing code to Visual Basic .NET, Bixhorn said. The upgrade wizard is currently available with all editions of the IDE.

The new application development tool supports Web services and includes the latest Web services standards, such as WS-Routing, WS-Security, WS-Attachments and Direct Internet Message Encapsulation (DIME).

The VS.NET team is focusing considerable attention on moving Microsoft's base of Visual Basic 6 developers to object-oriented .NET development through upgrade wizards and other features. And they are generally wooing the Windows developer community with a range of outreach activities, Bixhorn said. For example, Microsoft is making up to 90% of the core VS.NET development team available to developers via online newsgroups and forums. The company has also announced enhancements to its Visual Studio .NET Integration Program and to its .NET Component Builder Program.

For enterprise developers, the new IDE integrates with the newly released .NET Framework 1.1 for improved scalability, security and performance, according to Microsoft officials. The new version of the framework is included in all editions of Visual Studio .NET 2003. And, according to company officials, .NET Framework 1.1 can be installed side-by-side with .NET Framework 1.0.

For mobile device developers, Microsoft has included integrated support for the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework. Visual Basic and Visual C# developers can use the Windows forms designer to build, debug and deploy applications for the Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone Edition and other smart devices powered by the framework. Integrated emulation enables developers to program and debug their applications without requiring a device. And the integrated ASP.NET Web Forms and VS.NET Web Forms Designer provide a way for these developers to build thin-client, Web-based apps on more than 200 devices, including WAP phones, wireless PDAs and pagers.

In addition, a redesigned Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) -- the company's subscription-based, on- and off-line developer services program -- will make it easier and faster for developers to find resources, Bixhorn said. The new MSDN Web site launched several new features recently, including a new home page; Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds; new developer centers for Visual Studio, Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++ and the .NET Framework; and new code and download centers.

MSDN Universal subscribers may also download the Enterprise Instrumentation Framework (EIF) that is designed to allow developers to add runtime monitoring capabilities to any application. According to Microsoft officials, once added, the EIF enables developers or IT staff to monitor the health of any .NET-connected application.

Visual Studio .NET 2003 comes in three versions: Professional ($1,079), Enterprise Developer ($1,799) and Enterprise Architect ($2,499). Upgrades are priced at $549, $1,079 and $1,799, respectively.

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About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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