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At VSLive! 2004 Microsoft Lures Developers with Productivity

Announcements at this year's VSLive! conference make it clear that productivity and development-speed enhancements are the new competitive landscape.


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hough there were no big surprises and no major announcements, VSLive! San Francisco was notable this year for several reasons. First, despite the dismal economy, the conference was full, showing that even if organizations aren't hiring, they're at least still training their existing developers. A large number of the attendees have either already migrated to .NET or are planning to do so in the near future. Another trend was that the main track speakers used VB.NET for their presentations rather than C#. This is noteworthy because a large portion of .NET presenters—particularly the Microsoft speakers—have tended to favor C# in past .NET-focused conferences. This trend, along with VB.NET's growing popularity and new language enhancements should finally lay to rest the persistent rumors that Microsoft really wants developers to use C#, and that VB.NET was included only as an afterthought or as a way station on the main line to C#.

Finally, despite the recent pushback of Whidbey's release until 2005, (based on the number of crashes during demos, that's a good thing), it's apparent that Visual Studio, the .NET framework, Microsoft's major languages (C# and VB.NET), and a host of ancillary tools are making rapid strides that will result in more productive development and more stable applications. The overarching theme of both Bill Gates' keynote and the subsequent presenters is that one of Whidbey's main goals is to reduce the amount of code that developers are required to write. If the sample apps shown in the presentations are an accurate guide, they've succeeded.

The lesson for both Microsoft and Java devotees still arguing over the performance tests of the various Pet Shop Web application implementations is that the world has moved on.
Focus on Intelligent Development
In the modern development arena, it's no longer possible to compete solely on language features—the mainstream, general-purpose programming languages are now more similar than they are different; and any true advances made by one are quickly incorporated into the others. It's also not possible to compete solely on speed, at least, not for typical business applications—or, really, for Internet applications, because all the platforms and languages are "fast enough." The current battles are for productivity, security, manageability, and easy deployment. Microsoft is focused on addressing these issues, concentrating on delivering these improvements in Visual Studio, its flagship development tool. The lesson for both Microsoft and Java devotees still arguing over the performance tests of the various Pet Shop Web application implementations is that the world has moved on. The pertinent question is no longer which language is the best; it's which IDE is the smartest.

Money Talks
Under legal attack in Europe and the U.S., and threatened by Linux everywhere, Microsoft isn't taking any chances with its leadership position in the developer tools space. Gates mentioned that Microsoft's R&D budget, at $6 billion, is not only the largest in history, it's even larger than IBM's, which has traditionally been the technology R&D leader. This investment in R&D is apparent not only in the number of features and enhancements in Whidbey (and eventually Yukon and Longhorn), but also in the inclusion of two ancillary conferences—SpeechTEK and Microsoft Mobile DevCon—held simultaneously with VSLive this year. Microsoft announced the release of Microsoft Speech Server 2004, which it claimed will bring speech applications into the mainstream. Speech Server provides speech recognition and text-to-speech capabilities to voice-enable applications. However as the cost is relatively high (starting at $7,999 for a single-CPU Standard version), it seems doubtful that you'll see speech applications commonly used at the corporate office or small business level anytime soon. The Enterprise version, which must run on a standalone Windows Server 2003 box, starts at $17,999.



Money Walks, Too
At Mobile DevCon, the most exciting developments were new form factors for Windows CE and PocketPC devices, from mini-notebooks, to toughened heat-, water-, and shock-resistant devices, to a Motorola Smartphone that both flips open like a cell phone and opens in clamshell mode like a small notebook. In phone mode, the screen is in portrait orientation, but it's in landscape orientation when in notebook mode. The device automatically senses which way you're using it, and switches the display accordingly. GPS-enabled mobile capabilities abounded, driven partially by Microsoft's announcement of MapPoint 2004, providing enhanced maps, demographic data, and better GPS support, among others. Melding GPS capability with handheld devices not only lets businesses track employees efficiently, but also gives users easy access to driving directions, and lets businesses map customers to demographic trends or tie sales data to map-based visual representations. Although GPS today is still an add-on for most devices, it's apparent that all portable computing device capabilities are merging. Telephones, cameras, PDAs, and GPS-enabled mapping displays will eventually be commonplace in multi-function devices.

When you throw speech-enabled applications into this mobile device mixture, and then enable Visual Studio developers to create Windows, Web, mobile, and speech applications all within the same IDE, using the same languages, it becomes quite clear just how Microsoft intends to trump the competition.



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