At long last, Visual Studio 2005 set to arrive

At long last, Visual Studio 2005 set to arrive

Although disappointed by product delays, Visual Studio 2005 beta users are nonetheless pleased with the product's feature set, noting enhancements in areas such as ALM (application lifecycle management) and Web development.

Visual Studio 2005 became available to Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) users last week and ships to everyone else on Monday, with the same status holding true for the SQL Server 2005 database. The company will laud these two products and the upcoming BizTalk Server 2006 business process software on Monday at an event in San Francisco.

"In general, I'm very excited about [VS 2005], especially the improvements in ASP.Net and Visual Studio Team System," said Joe Homnick, a beta user of Visual Studio 2005 and president of Homnick Systems, a learning solutions partner for Microsoft. He has been involved in three Visual Studio-related user groups in Florida, including founding the Gold Coast Users Group.

But Homnick acknowledged delays with Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005. "Of course, I'd like to have seen [them] a lot faster," he said. Visual Studio 2005 had been due in 2004 but slipped by about a year.

"I think the lateness was created by the integration between Visual Studio and SQL Server. This gives you that whole CLR (Common Language Runtime) integration, as well as data analysis services in SQL Server," Homnick said.

Another beta user was more blunt about the arrival of Visual Studio 2005.

"We've been waiting a long time for the damn thing," said Tim Huckaby, CEO of InterKnowlogy, a Microsoft Gold-level partner that does custom application development. But he said the product was postponed because Microsoft did not want to ship it before it was ready to go.

InterKnowlogy has one customer going live with a Visual Studio 2005 application for insurance underwriting. Another client, a golf equipment manufacturer, has a Visual Studio 2005 Tools for the Microsoft Office System application from the 2005 toolset that compares metrics of golf clubs, Huckaby said.

"We got the [two] projects done in a faction of [the] time" that would have been required in the current Visual Studio product, Huckaby said. The tool set enables more productivity, which means projects get done quicker and cost clients a lot less, he said.

"The gist of the [new product set] is developer productivity" via an enhanced .Net Framework that features new framework classes, Huckaby said. These classes mean developers do not have to write this code themselves, he said. The Visual Studio IDE also offers enhanced debugging, Huckaby said.

Homnick said one of his clients, a city government, will use a Visual Studio 2005 application that leverages SQL Server reporting services to generate government reports.

The Team System version of Visual Studio 2005 introduces ALM to Microsoft's development platform. Team System represents a change, said beta user Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Citigate Hudson, which builds business intelligence applications and does custom development.

"I believe that this is going to really change overall the methodological approach and the thoroughness in which a lot of Microsoft-oriented shops are going to create applications," Brust said. Team System features capabilities previously only available to Microsoft developers via third-party products, he said. For example, policies can be set up for checking code into a repository.

Visual Studio 2005 Team System offers a business process modeling structure, Homnick said.

In the past, developers would start with a model of a system, turn it over to developers and infrastructure professionals and that was really the only time all parts of the process synchronized, Homnick said. Afterward, different parties in the process diverged. Now, a modeling system ties phases together. "If you make a change in the code, it's referenced in the model," Homnick said.

While Team System gets Microsoft into the application lifecycle game, it is a 1.0 release that still needs complete integration end to end, said Huckaby. But he added, "I wouldn't focus on any negative as far as Visual Studio Team System is concerned. I'm completely positive on [Team System]."

ASP.Net, which is Microsoft's Web development platform in Visual Studio 2005, features improvements such as two-way data binding through declarative methods, Homnick said.

"The other thing I like [about ASP.Net] is they've incorporated at a much higher level things such as membership," meaning membership processes such as authenticating users to a Web site, Homnick said. Developers no longer have to write individual login scenarios, he said.

ASP.Net makes it easier to change the overall look of Web applications, Brust said. ASP.Net also features membership and personalization features to reduce code-writing, he said. But ASP.Net development and .Net development have branched away in a "fairly pronounced way" in Visual Studio 2005, Brust said.

Web development has to be treated differently than .Net development, he said. "Let's call it a paradigm nudge that can be a little disruptive."

Brust hailed the data-binding in Visual Studio.

"[Data-binding] makes it much easier to create data-driven applications, and most applications are data-driven, and there is a whole host of new features on the Web development side of Visual Studio," he said.

Data-binding improvements bind forms to specific columns in data, boosting data-oriented operations, he said.

Noting that some developers sought a third beta release of Visual Studio 2005 because of concerns about bugs, Huckaby said Microsoft has enabled early access to technology and has taken heat because of attendant bugs that would be expected in early versions. "I don't think that critique was warranted," he said.

Visual Studio Tools 2005 for the Microsoft Office System also drew raves.

"You now have a design surface where Word and Excel is the actual design surface. So it's just like working with a Windows form for other types of smart devices," Homnick said. Developers can add Windows control to the Word surface, for example.

New Visual Studio 2005 Express products offer an alternative to the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl/Python/PHP) stack, Brust said. "This really answers a lot of what the LAMP stack otherwise would have had an exclusive on" in that a free development tool, free Web server, and free database are provided, he said.

Also a beta user of BizTalk Server 2006, Huckaby said that product "gets us closer to doing orchestration and messaging systems efficiently and easily."

The new version features complete integration with Visual Studio, making it easier to build enterprise applications, Huckaby said.

Between the second beta and the final, RTM (release to manufacturing) version, Microsoft did make some changes to Visual Studio 2005. These were described as "minimal" by the company. Most applications developed on the second beta will run on the final version with minimal modifications, according to Microsoft.

For example, client application user settings will revert to default settings when upgrading from beta 2 to RTM. A fix was made to the location where user settings are stored, accounting for the change. While the application user settings are affected during the upgrade, the application itself still will run correctly, the company said.

Also, a string serialization for ASP.Net profile and .Net application settings has been changed from culture-variant to culture-invariant serialization.

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