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Microsoft Touts Agile in Visual Studio vNext

Microsoft emphasized the Agile capabilities of the next Visual Studio release (vNext) at its Tech-Ed conference in Atlanta this week.

Cameron Skinner, general manager of Visual Studio Ultimate, provided an overview during the day one keynote address and then sat down with developer evangelist Brian Keller to provide more details in a video interview.

Skinner discussed new or enhanced features such as:

  • Storyboarding with PowerPoint
  • Dealing with Agile components via the Team Foundation Server Web portal
  • Capturing and integrating customer feedback
  • A new unit testing framework
  • Context management, such as saving and retrieving the "state" of a Visual Studio project
  • A new "Taskboard" feature added to the TFS dashboard
  • Code clone analysis that allows searching for similar code in projects
  • A new code review system leveraging TFS
  • A stakeholder feedback tool
  • Diagnostics such as bug reporting in production software

All of these come under a focus on new Application Lifecycle Management capabilities, which Skinner said "encompasses the entire cycle, so everything from requirements gathering, through prioritization of your backlogs, through spring planning, through spring execution, development, through deployment, production, monitoring, I mean, the whole deal."

To address the common disconnect between what business stakeholders ask for and what's finally delivered by the engineering team, Skinner described a new "PowerPoint Storyboard Assistant" tool.  It lets teams use the familiar presentation tool to mock up a user interface and allows customers and developers to participate in a "high-bandwidth conversation" about user requirements. The tool can model user interaction with rich controls such as datagrids so customers and developers "are on the same page."

Once requirements are clear, Skinner said, they can be put into user stories and developers can break them down to figure out who's going to work on what and how they're going to get it done. To facilitate that, he said, "we've extended the Team Foundation Server (TFS) Web portal to give a rich view into your current backlogs and what the priorities of those backlogs are."

Skinner said the tool provides "a rich capability … of being able to go to that Web portal and manipulate Team Foundation Server work items in real time just by dragging and dropping the priorities." Keller emphasized that because the tool is Web-based, users don't need to use Visual Studio, what he called "practicing Agile in an Agile manner."

A new TFS dashboard component, called Taskboard, gives an integrated view into work and time estimates, assignments, approvals, progress of projects, completed projects and more, "all on the Web," Skinner said. Keller noted that tool could be used during the daily standup meetings that are a part of the Agile process. "It really does streamline the whole standup," Skinner said, letting users report on issues such as obstacles and risks.

Noting that companies want to keep developers productive, or "in the zone as long as possible," Skinner pointed out that interruptions often happen that disrupt the individual development process. The new context management tool is designed to "save the state" of a project so it can be captured with the click of a Suspend button and then brought back up with the same files, breakpoints, window positions and so on, he said.

A new unit testing framework will "make it as easy as possible" to use different testing frameworks in one workflow, Skinner said. "We've spent a lot of time on the unit testing side," he said. One notable new capability will be writing tests in C++ and testing C++ code.

Borrowing from the Microsoft research department, Skinner said, Visual Studio Ultimate will allow "code clone analysis" that lets developers identify a code snippet and search throughout projects for similar code. He described it as a "simple concept, with complex heuristics behind it." Users can select different levels of matching such as exact, strong, medium and weak.

A new code review system going into VS vNext will "keep pushing the capabilities of Team Foundation Server," Skinner said, as it's "built on top of it." He said it will allow easy code review with someone sitting next to a user or all the way across the world.

The code review system will let reviewers provide inline comments, file comments or comments targeted to the entire review, so a review requestor can see who's working on it and track the review.

Once it's done, Skinner said, the review can be published and the requestor can act on the comments.

Continuing with the Agile emphasis on customer involvement early and often, Skinner said, "we've got this stakeholder feedback tool." The general manager said "we want to is provide a very rich tool that allows us to capture that feedback and then flow it through our collaboration engine,

Team Foundation Server, and then be able to analyze and shred that apart and potentially make more requirements coming out of that feedback."

Finally, VS vNext will allow diagnostics of production software discs, Skinner said. This problem was approached in two ways, he said. One was through the new "SCOM connector" (System Center Operations Manager 2007 R2 connector for Microsoft Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010), which is in CTP release. It uses monitoring capabilities provided by the acquisition of AVIcode. It lets monitored data to be put back into TFS for analysis and work.

But for scenarios where bugs are "really nasty" and difficult to diagnose, IntelliTrace data collectors will be available in production scenarios, Skinner said. The collectors will be freely available to "just get it everywhere," he said, to let users apply different collectors in different areas and then bring the IntelliTrace information back into Visual Studio Ultimate for analysis.

The Tech-Ed conference continues through Thursday.

About the Author

David Ramel is the editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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