REDMOND, Wash., Feb. 8, 2002 — For four years, Microsoft has been laying the groundwork for Microsoft .NET — the company’s vision of next-generation XML Web services and applications that connect people, devices and information throughout the Internet in seamless, secure ways. Next week, Microsoft celebrates a major milestone for .NET — worldwide availability of the tools that will propel the next generation of the Web through programmers.
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On Feb. 13 at VSLive! in San Francisco, Microsoft will kick off the worldwide launch of Visual Studio .NET, the comprehensive tool for rapidly building and deploying XML Web services and applications. Visual Studio .NET arms the world’s software developers with powerful tools to rapidly design broad-reach Web applications for any device and any platform, and to build powerful Windows applications. It also enables developers to rapidly build reusable business logic that can be seamlessly integrated both within the organizational firewall and beyond, with suppliers, partners, consumers and others. More than just another piece of the .NET platform, Microsoft regards Visual Studio .NET as the essential enabler of .NET.
Even before the tool’s formal introduction, there has been tremendous developer interest in Visual Studio .NET. Millions of developers received the beta version, and thousands them have already deployed production applications with pre-release versions. Developers say they’re attracted by Visual Studio .NET’s broad support for virtually every popular developer language, which vastly minimizes the retraining they need to use it. Visual Studio .NET also dramatically reduces the amount of code developers have to write for their applications — thanks to its Rapid Application Development (RAD) environment and object-oriented approach — enabling them to bring their applications to market more quickly. Meanwhile, the new tool enables applications that are faster and more scalable than developers can create using competitive environments.
“Developers are the agents of change in the ways we live, work and play with any Internet-connected device, such as a cell phone, PDA or computer, any time, any place,” says Eric Rudder, senior vice president of the Developer and Platform Evangelism Division at Microsoft. “And Visual Studio .NET is the tool that enables them to bring about this change, for the benefit of Internet users everywhere.”
Independent experts call Visual Studio .NET crucial to the coming world of Web services and applications.
“I’m not aware of any technology that comes close to competing with Visual Studio .NET,” says Roger Sessions, CEO of Austin, Texas-based ObjectWatch, a leader in architect-level training in highly scalable distributed systems. “It raises the bar by several orders of magnitude, enabling developers to tackle complex Web applications with less effort and at lower cost than any other system. Visual Studio .NET will be the product leader in the market for Web applications and, as the emerging market for Web services grows over the coming year, Visual Studio .NET will lead in that space as well.”
Already in the Hands of Developers
Not that it’s doing shabbily now. Beta or pre-release versions of Visual Studio .NET have already been distributed to over 3.5 million developers worldwide — making it the most widely distributed pre-release software in Microsoft’s history and, as far as the company can tell, in the industry’s history as well. Excitement around the beta program has created a thriving ecosystem for .NET that includes:
More than 6,000 customers who have deployed .NET production solutions using the beta version of ASP.NET through the ASP.NET GoLive! license.
75 Visual Studio Integration Program (VSIP) partners such as Rational, Compuware and Crystal Decisions, who are providing a wide variety of developer tools and languages that work seamlessly in Visual Studio .NET
35 independent software vendors (ISVs) including ComponentOne, Infragistics and SoftArtisans, who have announced more than 130 .NET software components, many already top-sellers in developer channels
More than 800 academic institutions worldwide who are participating in the Microsoft Developers Network Academic Alliance, reaching more than 200,000 students in .NET development
More than 20 language vendors offering programming languages running on .NET including C++, Perl, Python, Java, COBOL, Fortran, RPG and Eiffel
“Visual Studio .NET is a true object-oriented environment that eliminates the need to re-invent the wheel every time you want to access functionality,” says Jacob A. Grass, software engineer with Abiliti Solutions, which develops customer-care and billing software for the telecom industry. “For example, the .NET programming classes wrap the majority of the Windows APIs, making it even easier to access their functionality.”
“.NET isn’t just a more powerful and scalable platform than the Java/Linux alternative — it’s also the most cost-effective alternative,” says ObjectWatch’s Sessions. “Development is extremely fast and easy, reducing the cost to write new applications. And the combination of .NET and Intel hardware is so cost-competitive that you can take an application that costs US$10 million on a large Linux box and run it for $1 million on a .NET/Intel box. That’s going to bring real pressure on Linux applications running on expensive hardware.”
Developers Reap Benefits of Visual Studio .NET Today
One company that’s seen the benefits of the .NET platform is CafePress.com. The company offers an outsourced e-commerce solution that allows individuals, groups and companies to sell a variety of merchandise online. Before using the .NET Framework, CafePress.com found its development platform to be slow and problematic, preventing its business from moving forward.
“Since moving to the .NET Framework, our development speed has increased dramatically,” says Fred Durham, CEO of CafePress.com. “Project time cycles have been reduced to approximately one-quarter of the previous development cycle times. That means more features and services for our users. With the .NET Framework, we can much more easily develop custom code for larger clients. It also means we offer more services and features at large. Again, this is because development times are compressed and the lines of code needed have dropped significantly.”
According to Durham, the .NET Framework decreased development cycle times for CafePress.com by 75 percent and increased Web server efficiency to just two-to-three percent utilization from 50-to-70 percent utilization on the previous platform.
Abiliti Solutions has used Visual Studio .NET and the .NET platform to create software including a graphical XML schema generator accessible to a business analyst, Grass says. Abiliti developed the application in one week — less than half the time that Abiliti’s Grass estimates it would have taken with another tool. A broad range of features contributed to the time savings; for example, Grass says that the fact that all controls and forms exist in tangible classes “saved an unbelievable amount of time” when he was creating the user interface.
Comprehensive Support for Clients, Servers and Services
Visual Studio .NET delivers increased performance and productivity by enabling developers to leverage existing skills and develop in the programming language of their choice, while providing a RAD environment that minimizes the need to write code. Visual Studio .NET is a comprehensive tool supporting the entire .NET platform, including clients, servers and Web services.
Unlike single-language approaches, such as Java, which is targeted to the 6 percent of developers who know and use that language, Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework support over 20 languages, including Visual Basic, Visual C++, COBOL, Basic, RPG, FORTRAN and Java. Applications written in virtually any programming language, including XML Web services, can be shared and reused, enabling developers to leverage their existing code and skills to build applications faster. With Visual Studio .NET, developers do not need to spend the time and money to learn a new language — something that can cost up to a year’s salary in retraining, according to ObjectWatch’s Sessions.
Beyond saving the time and expense of retraining, the broad language support in Visual Studio .NET also greatly expands the pool of developers on which a company can draw.
“Visual Studio .NET allows us to open our arms to all qualified developers, rather than limiting ourselves to developers who happen to know the particular language we use most,” says Abiliti Solution’s Grass, who’s also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional(MVP), a designation based on his active participation in Microsoft online newsgroups. “That’s tremendously important to us, because we can focus on finding developers with the right conceptual knowledge, without having to worry about the syntax they use to express that knowledge. With Visual Studio .NET and the.NET platform, each of our developers can work in the language of their choice and all the code works together.”
“We want to be inclusive of all developers, to allow them all to succeed and benefit from the .NET platform regardless of the programming language they know and in which they’ve built previous applications,” Microsoft’s Rudder says. “Visual Studio .NET is the tool that enables this –the only tool that enables this.”
Beyond eliminating the need to learn a new programming language, Visual Studio .NET’s RAD paradigm frees developers from much of the time-consuming need to write code, and it provides these benefits across the full range of the .NET platform, including clients, servers and services. In the past, when developers created applications for desktop computers, cell phones, Pocket PCs and other devices, the applications had to be written separately for each client device, and required different tools and skills. In contrast, with Visual Studio .NET, developers can create their applications once, using an easy drag-and-drop environment, then reuse the same code as they point it to a new interface for each type of client device.
“Before Visual Studio .NET, I never built dynamic Web pages because that wasn’t the type of application with which I, as a Windows application developer, was comfortable,” says Remi Thomas, another MVP who has used Visual Studio .NET for six months at Pixel Technology, a software company creating digital image processing solutions. “Now, with Visual Studio .NET, I can build any type of application I want: dynamic Web pages, Windows applications and more. It makes it easy for me, because I use the same techniques with which I’m familiar, regardless of the type of application I’m developing.”
On the server side, new RAD tools enable developers to take full advantage of the .NET Enterprise Servers — such as BizTalk Server, SharePoint Server and SQL Server — with object-oriented drag-and-drop ease never before possible at the level of complex, distributed applications. The Server Explorer tool in Visual Studio .NET, for example, allows developers to access and integrate into their applications a full range of server administration tools, databases and other components with the same drag-and-drop process they use to create desktop applications.
Visual Studio .NET also allows developers to take immediate advantage of existing XML-based Web services, such as Passport authentication and .NET My Services, without having to write new code. The “plumbing,” or infrastructure, needed to integrate these Web services is built into the .NET Framework. Developers can rapidly create applications that deliver powerful functionality to users as they move from site to site across the Internet.
Getting Ready to Use Visual Studio .NET
Because Visual Studio .NET leverages the experience that developers already have, the learning curve to use the new development environment is relatively short. Pixel Technology’s Thomas says he became comfortable with Visual Studio .NET in less than two weeks.
The amount of training a developer will need for Visual Studio .NET varies, according to Microsoft’s Rudder. For developers familiar with Microsoft Visual C++, there’s “virtually no new learning needed,” while developers familiar with Microsoft Visual Basic will find some optional, high-end features for object-oriented programming that they can “grow into” as they’re ready. Developers can also choose to learn new languages that Microsoft has created to take maximum advantage of the .NET platform, such as Visual C# and Visual J#.
Microsoft has created an array of options to help developers get ready for Visual Studio .NET:
At no charge from Microsoft, developers can download the .NET Framework software development kit (SDK), or join user groups and newsgroups to gain knowledge from their peers. Low-cost options include subscriptions to the new Visual Studio .NET Magazine.
More significant investments include subscription offerings from the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN), which entitle developers to the MSDN Web site and Library, MSDN managed newsgroups, an online Concierge chat service with Microsoft support professionals and quarterly updates.
Developers can attend the .NET Readiness Road Show, two-day classes that Microsoft is hosting nationally and internationally. Microsoft Certified Technology Education Centers (CTECs) are also offering training programs leading to certification in programming for .NET.
“A Constant State of Awe”
“I’ve been using Visual Studio .NET since it first came out in beta 16 months ago and it’s the most productive development environment I’ve ever used,” says Abiliti Solutions’ Grass. “It’s chock full of features that enhance the developer’s experience, that make me more organized and productive in my work. Every day, I encounter something in Visual Studio .NET that keeps me in a constant state of awe — something that’s cool to play with, that increases my productivity, that eliminates my need to write more code — that keeps me excited about what I do.”
“We’re absolutely convinced that Visual Studio .NET is the way to go to create the XML-based Web services and applications that are now beginning to revolutionize the way people use computers, PDAs, cell phones and other devices,” Microsoft’s Rudder says. “And the tremendous response from the developer community — even before the product’s formal launch — tells us that they agree. When you’ve ‘bet the farm’ on your vision for computing, it’s gratifying to see the industry helping to turn that vision into reality.”