Foley on Microsoft

FoxPro Not an Endangered Species

Microsoft sends mixed messages about its less-than-sexy database development tool.

Visual FoxPro is the Rodney Dangerfield of Microsoft. It doesn't get a lot of respect. But I think this situation may soon change. While it's true that Microsoft will support Visual FoxPro until 2010 (or 2014, if you're willing to shell out for Microsoft's extended support plan), the company has sent mixed messages about the fate of its database development tool. Microsoft decided a while ago to keep FoxPro outside the .Net and Visual-Studio hen houses, leading many to question its viability.

I believe the opposite is true. I think FoxPro is about to get a lot more relevant to Microsoft and its customers, and not just because Microsoft exec Eric Rudder (who some claim is Chairman Bill Gates' heir apparent) served as the architect of Visual FoxPro 3.0.

Here's why I believe FoxPro is going to matter for more than just the next few years: There are still hundreds of thousands of FoxPro users, by Microsoft's own estimates. They don't sound like they're planning on going anywhere any time soon. Many of these folks are happy that Microsoft never attempted to .Net-ify FoxPro, and think FoxPro is better for the decision.

Microsoft is certainly not going to pull the rug out from under these folks (the way it did with the Visual Basic 6.0 diehards—but that's for another column). That's mainly because the Microsoft dev team has figured out it has a lot to gain from FoxPro. Alan Griver, Microsoft's Visual Studio Data Group manager, acknowledged the growing synergies between Fox and Visual Studio earlier this year in the FoxTalk newsletter. "I don't believe that there should be a wall between the two teams [Visual Studio Data Tools and FoxPro],” Griver said. "To that end, some of the Fox people are bringing some of the great capabilities of Fox to .NET. But at the same time, there are people from the Visual Data Tools team who are working now on Fox. It's not a question of resources going only one way from Fox to Visual Studio.”

Microsoft officials admitted earlier this year that the developer division is borrowing from FoxPro for Visual Basic 9.0 and LINQ, the Language Integrated Query add-ons that the company is developing for the next iterations of Visual Basic and Visual C#. In fact, Microsoft is so serious about its FoxPro integration efforts that it has assigned a code name to its endeavors. (Microsoft doesn't take lightly the assigning of code names.) Sedna—named for the celestial body that was discovered this year about 8 billion miles from earth—covers the company's sundry FoxPro integration efforts. The first Sedna deliverables are expected to debut in 2007.

"The primary goal of Sedna is to expand on the ability of Visual FoxPro-based solutions to better integrate with other Microsoft products and technologies,” according to the officially sanctioned Microsoft Visual FoxPro roadmap. "Features in Sedna will target Visual FoxPro interoperability with application components created by using Visual Studio 2005, the .NET Framework 2.0, and SQL Server 2005.” 

Then there's this tantalizing hint: "Sedna will also help improve the ability for Visual FoxPro 9.0 solutions to be successfully deployed on the upcoming new Windows operating system Microsoft Windows Code Name 'Longhorn.'" (Perhaps they forgot they renamed it Vista?)

It seems like Microsoft is bending over backwards to keep FoxPro from ending up as part of a musty fur coat. I can't help but wonder if it has shown Microsoft that there's value still in non-.Net-based products. In the same way that the success of Ajax applications led Microsoft to reevaluate its "smart-client-or-nothing” strategy, the hardiness of FoxPro and its users has led the Redmondites to give the Fox a second look.

Any of the FoxPro faithful out there? Do you think Microsoft has bigger things in mind for its less-than-sexy database tool? To what do you attribute FoxPro's seeming new lease on life—if you agree that it is experiencing one? Write me at mjfoley@redmondmag.com and let me know what you think.

About the Author

Mary Jo Foley is editor of the ZDNet "All About Microsoft" blog and has been covering Microsoft for about two decades. She has a new book out, Microsoft 2.0 (John Wiley & Sons, May 2008), about what's next for Microsoft in the post-Gates era.

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