Microsoft Plans Visual Studio Shell

Microsoft is readying a beta of a new SKU of its next generation of Visual Studio, intended for those who want to embed it into their own tools.

The company will offer what it calls Visual Studio Shell, a scaled-down version of its flagship developer tool suite. Microsoft launched Visual Studio Shell at its TechEd conference in Orlando, Fla.

Visual Studio Shell is intended to allow developers to build Visual Studio functionality atop their own vertical tools, integrating various languages such as FORTRAN, COBOL, Ruby and PHP. Microsoft will release a beta version of the shell by this summer. When it ships with Orcas, now officially dubbed Visual Studio 2008, Visual Studio Shell will be free.

Joe Marini, group product manager for Microsoft's VSIP program, said Visual Studio Shell is a base version of Visual Studio 2008.

"It's intended to let developers integrate their products directly into Visual Studio and then ship them as if they were their own products," Marini said.

While primarily aimed at ISVs, Microsoft is also incorporating enterprise developers who may want to build Visual Studio Shell into their internally developed tools or those they have acquired from third parties.

"We are actively in discussion with enterprises who have expressed an interest in this," Marini said. "You can imagine any part of the software development lifecycle that requires tooling. This would be a good fit for modeling, requirements generation and analysis. All kinds of things can be built using this."

Developers will be able to use Visual Studio Shell in two modes: integrated and isolated. The integrated mode is built on Microsoft's existing Visual Studio Premier Partner Edition 2005, primarily used by language integrators.

The isolated option allows partners and developers to build products on top of Visual Studio, with the ability to customize the experience so that it doesn't necessarily look like Visual Studio, according to Marini.

"It could look like their own custom IDE, but [since] it's built on top of Visual Studio, they can ship it as their own product," he said. "When the customer installs it, it will live on its own side-by-side with other instances of other developers who have done this as well as other instances of Visual Studio that the user might have on their machine already."

But he insisted it does not require a Visual Studio license.

"We really see this as a way to make it easier for our developers to concentrate on what they do best, rather than having to worry about maintaining their own IDE," he said.

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of and news editor of Visual Studio Magazine.