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Visual Studio Gets Preview

Microsoft’s latest suite of development tools will provide optimized database connectivity, an enhanced version of the .NET Framework, and better mobile application programming capabilities. But even Microsoft called the new release “incremental.” At the same time the company announced a timeline for its next two Visual Studio releases.

Visual Studio .NET 2003, expected to be widely available in beta form in March, was shown off by Microsoft senior vice president Eric Rudder this week during VSLive! in San Francisco, about a year after Visual Studio .NET was originally launched during the same event.

Languages included in the suite include: Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual C# and Visual J#. Microsoft had not finished development of Visual J# in time to include it at the launch of Visual Studio .NET 2002.

Among the new features of Visual Studio 2003:

  • Although the original version worked with SQL Server data, the latest release also offers new data providers for Oracle 8i and Oracle 9i, as well as ODBC.
  • In an effort to migrate legacy programs, VS .NET 2003 provides an upgrade wizard that migrates Visual Basic 6.0 controls and Web classes to .NET applications. It also allows developers to import pieces of code through a Snippet Converter.
  • To simplify development for mobile devices, the release includes.NET Compact Framework, a subset of Microsoft’s desktop framework, for providing Web services. New .ASP capabilities allow the application to sense the type of device and render the correct interface.
  • To provide a way for scrambling code, VS .NET 2003 includes Dotsfuscator, an “obfuscator” from Microsoft partner PreEmptive Solutions. The utility also shrinks the code.

    Now that the product has “shaken out,” Rafael A. Aragon, a software engineer for Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, New Mexico, said he expected to start working with it. “It’s becoming very versatile,” Aragon said. Although he appreciated several of the smaller features of the development environment, what matters most to him, he said, is that the Web services functionality will allow his group to create cross-platform applications. “I work with a lot of scientists. They like to work with the Mac and Unix. But to build them things that are cross-platform is a challenge,” he explained. “Now that I can use the browser as an endpoint, I can expand my customer base.” Aragon’s biggest concern is security. “That’s a high priority to us.” For that reason, he expects development to go slowly.

    Developer James Stewart, who maintains a series of applications for the Unisys mainframe platform from Puyallup, Washington, said Microsoft “threw a few bones to us” with the latest release. But overall he likes the direction the products are going. “The .NET Framework does so much that you used to have to figure out how to do yourself.”

    Rudder announced five new “starter kits” for developers to get started using ASP .NET. Those will be available for free download on www.asp.net. The sample applications provide time-tracking and project management, reporting, commerce, portal and community functions such as threaded discussion forums. The kits will include an administrative interface that allows the user to pull content from a Web sit to populate a newsletter automatically. The kits are currently in limited beta.

    The talk also showed Visual Studio Tools for Office, first announced in December. These allow .NET developers to automate and extend Word and Excel for building applications. Also in limited beta, Rudder said it will probably be available in March.

    Although he didn’t provide a timeframe, Rudder did discuss the next two editions of Visual Studio. The version code-named “Whidbey” is expected out in the same timeframe as the “Yukon” release of SQL Server. The release, which had a brief demonstration at the talk, is expected to offer extended support for XML-based Web services and an improved integrated development environment. But the feature that the audience of developers most applauded was the ability to modify code while debugging an application. The capability, which existed in Visual Basic 6.0, had been removed from the original .NET suite.

    Visual Studio “Longhorn,” also known as “Orcas,” will appear as part of the “Longhorn platform wave,” Rudder said. The emphasis there, he said, will be on new user interface tools and designers to take advantage of the new presentation system in Longhorn.

  • About the Author

    Dian L. Schaffhauser is a freelance writer based in Northern California.

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