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VS.NET 2003 Delivers Solid Enhancements, Microsoft Promises Even More in 'Whidbey'

With the technical groundwork for .NET development already paved and, for many developers, traveled as well, Microsoft's attention turns now to the business of delivering the next set of productivity features.


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San Francisco—February 11, 2003—The timbre of VSLive! this year mirrors the uptake of Visual Studio in general; unlike the last two years, developers' minds are not focused so much on migration and the overwhelming prospect of learning an entirely new development platform and IDE, but rather on getting down to the business of becoming productive in what is now their primary development tool.

Eric Rudder, Senior Vice President of Developer Evangelism for Microsoft, spoke Tuesday morning to a crowd of approximately 2000 developers, the vast majority of whom are Visual Basic developers, to expose Microsoft's plan for future releases of Visual Studio, including:

  • The soon-to-be released VS.NET 2003, previously codenamed Everett
  • Whidbey, the subsequent release of Visual Studio, which will ship concurrently with SQL Server.NET (Yukon)
  • Orcas, which is slated for release with the Longhorn version of Windows

Although there are few major changes to VB.NET or C# in this release, Visual Studio 2003 gives developers numerous productivity enhancements, such as improved code completion and IntelliSense, improved connectivity for Oracle and ODBC-compliant data stores, native support for mobile device development and Compact Framework applications, additional upgrade capabilities for VB6 Web classes and user controls, and a built-in code obfuscation utility. In addition to the Visual Studio announcements, Microsoft also announced the availability of two new public betas:

  • Visual Studio Tools for Office, which give VS developers an enhanced set of tools for building Word and Excel solutions using VB.NET or C#
  • ASP.NET Starter Kits, which are shells or templates for five common Web application types, including e-commerce sites, portals, Web-based communities, reports, and time tracking.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, what developers really seemed to respond to most during the 75-minute presentation were the live demonstrations of the new code completion capabilities. For example, if you type Tryto begin an error-handling block, Visual Studio inserts the stub code for the remainder of the block:




Catch ex As Exception 
End Try

The addition of IntelliSense to the Immediate window was also popular, as well as some other minor but important enhancements such as the sorting of entries in various dropdown lists. Barely mentioned but still important is the ability to define and initialize a variable in a For loop. Developers also seemed to appreciate the ability to write Windows CE applications using the compact framework. VS 2003 ships with both the Compact Framework and an emulator for developing Pocket PC applications. These new features, while not monumental, represent the types of small productivity enhancements that developers welcome most and are obviously glad to see forthcoming.

Welcome Whidbey
Beyond this point release lies Whidbey, which includes some of the larger productivity enhancements requested by developers such as (drumroll please) the long-promised Edit-and-Continue for VB.NET. Microsoft has added Edit-and-Continue functionality as part of the framework, therefore, it would be possible to add this feature to any .NET language. However, Microsoft would not specifically state whether Edit-and-Continue features would be added to C#, but according to John Montgomery, group product manager for the .NET developer platform, the inclusion of the feature in C# will depend on user demand.

Microsoft demonstrated improved data-binding capabilities and announced the integration of the framework directly into SQL Server, allowing developers to write stored procedures in the .NET language of their choice, rather than being limited to T-SQL. These capabilities are similar to those that Java developers have enjoyed with Oracle for quite some time.

Other planned features for the Whidbey release include XML code-based documentation, a feature made more robust because comments you make to methods also appear in the IntelliSense when people call those methods. Montgomery also said that genericswhich are similar in concept to C++ templates—give you strongly typed collections.and will appear in the Whidbey release for C# and possibly for VB.NET.

Even further out, the Visual Studio release codenamed Orcas will feature additional user interface tools and extensive managed interfaces, said Rudder.

Visual Studio Tools for Office
While the capability for writing Office applications with .NET languages will be eagerly received, Microsoft is avoiding the underlying problem of what developers should do with their existing VBA code. Robert Green, lead product manager for Visual Studio.NET, says there is no clear upgrade path for VBA developers to move their code to .NET; however, he added, "The upgrade path is training and you might be able to use the VB upgrade tools, you might be able to take some of the snippets, but we are not at this point targeting VBA developers and targeting upgrade. We're saying you're in Visual Studio.NET, here are tools you can use to build Office solutions." He gave assurances that VBA would remain in Office and that VBA and .NET code can coexist.

The Visual Studio tools for Office work only with Word and Excel. For now, Powerpoint, Outlook, and Sharepoint are not included in the tools for Office functionality.

Until the release of the Visual Studio Tools for Office developers had to import the Office type libraries to use the Office object model from .NET. While these tools still work by adding a wrapper around the existing Office COM objects, Green said "The advantage [over simple COM interop] is twofold: one, the project model and the fact that we hook up the events for you and present them in Visual Studio.NET, [and two,] automatically tell the Word and Excel docs that there's code and where to go get it and that automatically when you create a project you import the correct PIAs [Primary Interop Assembly]." In other words, these new tools simplify Office development in Visual Studio .NET.

Xdocs and X#?
There's been speculation that Microsoft was planning to unify its forms model around XDocs, now renamed to InfoPath. InfoPath is a way to easily create forms that read and write to XML. However, Microsoft currently has no plans to unify the forms model using InfoPath technology. Instead, InfoPath is aimed primarily at Office users who have little to no programming experience, while the higher-level forms such as Windows Forms in Visual Studio remain the province of professional developers, according to Green.

Though we asked several Microsoft officials about reports that a new language was in development called X#, no one would give details about the rumored language, except to say that "it is very logical to think that Microsoft is looking at adding the types of features that you read about—adding XML capabilities into our programming languages. It's a very rational set of features that I saw described in the article, but I think that at the same time we are a long ways out from actually having anything product-wise that we want to talk about."

However, Montgomery said, regarding Whidbey, that these capabilities would "probably fall into that timeframe."



   
A. Russell Jones is the Executive Editor of DevX. He can be reached at rjones@devx.com.
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