Microsoft Officially Launches .NET Framework 4.5 and Visual Studio 2012

Microsoft broadcasted a live launch event for .NET Framework 4.5 and Visual Studio 2012 on Wednesday.

The company had previously released Visual Studio 2012 to developers, along with a test version of the upcoming Windows 8 operating system, on August 15, 2012. Windows 8 introduces Windows RT, a version of the operating system for Microsoft's Surface tablets and ARM-based hardware from select OEMs. It is also the core of the upcoming Windows Phone 8 operating system. If Windows 8 succeeds in offering the full power of the traditional desktop combined with the immersive convenience of a mobile device, the opportunity for developers on the Microsoft platform will have never been greater.

The Visual Studio 2012 Virtual Online Event, held at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center overlooking Puget Sound's Elliott Bay, was hosted by Microsoft executives S. Somasegar, Jason Zander and Brian Harry. They kicked off the event with a 90-minute keynote that showcased how Visual Studio 2012 and Team Foundation Server can be used to develop and manage modern apps that target Microsoft's stack and other Web platforms.

"This is the best lineup of releases that we've seen in the history of the company, starting with Windows 8, Windows Server 2012, Windows Azure, Office 365, SQL Server," said Microsoft Corporate Vice President S. Somasegar, who heads the Developer Division.

"So we've got all these fantastic platforms, and for you developers, the center of these platforms is Visual Studio," he said. With more than 600,000 downloads of Visual Studio 2012 in less than four weeks, the new IDE already has the fastest download rate in the product's history.

The ecosystem for the latest tooling is also well underway, according to Somasegar. In conjunction with today's launch, 72 partners are offering 100 extensions for Visual Studio 2012 "that are all shipping today," he said.

Somasegar pointed to mobile devices, the consumerization of IT and bring your own device as trends that indicated that users want to use the same types of devices in their home and business environments, and increasingly expect business and consumer apps to provide similar experiences.

"Visual Studio 2012 delivers a great set of tools that enable you to build what I call 'modern applications' to be able to target the latest technologies, in addition to existing platforms that you might have," he said. Modern apps are user-centric, data-centric, integrate social media and need continuous improvement to meet those expectations.

To help developers meet those requirements, Microsoft is taking the same "continuous value" approach with its product cycle. Visual Studio 2012 Update 1 is on track to be delivered before the end of the year, according to Somasegar. The first Community Technology Preview is slated for release later this month. Update 1 will focus on agile tools, testing tools for continuous quality, SharePoint and Windows development tools.

The Visual Studio 2012 family of products includes Professional, Premium, Ultimate and Team Foundation Server 2012 collaboration platform, now available in preview as a cloud-based service. The company also offers free Visual Studio Express 2012 tooling for Windows 8, Windows Phone, Windows Azure and the Web.

Today, the company announced that the free Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop, which was missing from the original 2012 lineup as Microsoft moved to a platform-based model for its free tooling, is available for download. It supports C#, Visual Basic, .NET and C++. Microsoft also released F# functional programming tools as an add-on for Visual Studio Express 2012 for the Web. The F# tools also support Windows Azure.

Somasegar ended his portion of the keynote with an announcement that got people excited. "For every customer or partner attendee, who is here with us live at this event – physically at this event — we will be giving each of you a Windows 8 device," he said, before adding, "sometime in the next several months, okay?" The audience laughed, but was quite pleased with the news.

Continuous Services with Visual Studio 2012
Jason Zander, the corporate vice president in charge of the Visual Studio team, highlighted some key updates in Visual Studio 2012 and .NET Framework 4.5 designed to help developers build applications for how people live today with their myriad of devices, which are often backed up to the cloud and connected to on-premise applications. Social media is another big element in these modern applications, observed Zander, and with technologies like Yammer, it's increasingly used to collaborate with co-workers.

"The question for developers is how do we build such applications and do it with the fastest time to market?" he explained in his keynote blog. "We will need a system that allows us to build out business and transactional logic at scale, exposing things in a way that we can handle many heterogeneous device types, with team software to speed up delivery."

Microsoft Product Marketing Manager Orville McDonald joined Zander onstage during the keynote and demonstrated new functionality in Visual Studio 2012 that's designed to support the development of continuous services that can be consumed by a variety of clients. He showcased multiple tooling and development scenarios with a MyEvents Web app. It was built using key functionality found in .NET Framework 4.5, including ASP.NET MVC 4 for multiple views, the ASP.NET Web API (API controller) and Entity Framework for creating data models and tables, according to Zander.

MyEvents, which has an AJAX interface (built using new JavaScript and jQuery features) that supports drag and drop, pulls in data services such as Bing Maps and tweets. One highlight of the demo was the new Page Inspector tool in Visual Studio (it's already found in the F12 Developer Tools in Internet Explorer) for analyzing problems with the code and HTML on live Web pages.

The demo included a data entry client created with the WPF designer in Visual Studio 2012, which is "Blend behind the scenes," said McDonald. He used the new asynchronous programming (async and await) in .NET Framework 4.5 to improve the app's responsiveness. He also created a touch-enabled Windows Store app client for MyEvent users with tablets. Developers can avoid rewriting the same code for multiple clients by refactoring the application logic using the new portable library support in .NET Framework 4.5. "It allows you to write all your code once and encapsulate it in a portable library, and then transfer that library from device to device, including Xbox 360," said McDonald.

MyEvents continued to grow as McDonald showed an attendee app for tablets that offers social features, including the ability to share notes on virtual paper. The "paper" application can be used with a stylus, crumpled and manipulated. McDonald used the Windows 8 tablet simulator to debug the graphics for the paper app at the pixel-level in Visual Studio by accessing what happened at the pipeline stages, including the lines of code that actually rendered the pixels. This enables developers to do things like take advantage of the hardware including Kinect for Windows, according to McDonald, who ended the demo with a 3-D avatar of a speaker (animated by Jason Zander) who got pelted with tomatoes.

Developers can go to MSDN to download samples of the code, said McDonald. The company is also providing 60 video clips on what's new in Visual Studio 2012 that developers can use to learn more about the latest functionality.

Modern ALM
Microsoft also highlighted the new functionality in Visual Studio 2012 and Team Foundation Server that supports agility, continuous feedback, quality and delivery in the modern application lifecycle. Visual Studio 2012 and Team Foundation Server are focused on improving the product cycle from idea to working software, according to Microsoft, and enabling continuous feedback from more stakeholders, including clients and customers.

"A modern app is an app that is continuously improving," reiterated Microsoft Technical Fellow Brian Harry, who is in charge of Team Foundation Server. Developers need to think about how they are going to deliver that agility in response to customers' needs and manage the modern application lifecycle from idea to implementation to deployment to feedback. "It is fundamentally defined by getting through that cycle quickly," he said.

The TFS team has moved to a "three-week cadence" with Team Foundation Service, according to Harry, which would have been impossible a year ago. In order to ship an updated server every three weeks, they had to rethink their entire process.

Harry highlighted the new tooling in Visual Studio 2012 and Team Foundation Server, which is aimed at a better understanding of requirements (the PowerPoint Storyboarding add-in which now supports iOS shapes); developing without losing focus (Suspend & Shelve); baking in quality from the start of the process; and working with IT operations for faster deployment and easier troubleshooting once software is already in production. Visual Studio 2012 adds more support for System Center, and with the latest tooling, developers can also use IntelliTrace to troubleshot code already in production.

TFS Power Tools for Visual Studio 2012, which includes advanced tools for backup, Windows Explorer and PowerShell extensions and a process template editor, is available for download, starting today. Productivity Power Tools for Visual Studio 2012 (tools and command-line utilities) are expected in October 2012, according to the company.

The keynotes were followed by a panel moderated by Forrester Research analyst Jeffrey Hammond on "The New Normal – Development in Today's Organizations." The panel featured Brian Summers of Columbia Sportswear, an early adopter of TFS; Clemens Reijnen of Sogetic; and Somasegar and Zander. The event also featured sessions on building modern apps, key features in Visual Studio, Continuous Delivery and a case study on transforming IT into a services organization.

As with past events, Windows Phone was somewhat under the radar here as the company moves to a new operating system. However, Todd Brix announced in the Windows Phone Developer Blog today that developers can now apply to participate in the Windows Phone SDK 8.0 Developer Preview. Microsoft will stop accepting applications on September 17 at 5:00 p.m. (PDT). Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Phone is expected in the same timeframe as Windows Phone 8, which remains unclear, despite the handset announcements from Samsung and Nokia last week.