LOS ANGELES — Oct. 29, 2008 — This week at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC2008), Microsoft highlighted the company’s strategic shift to Software-plus-Services, announced a new cloud services platform for developers, and offered on-site developers Community Technology Previews (CTPs) for dozens of innovations across its traditional, on-premises application platform.
Microsoft’s announcements at, and leading-up to, PDC underscore the company’s strategic focus on making it easier for developers to build, deploy and manage applications across a broad range of scenarios, while using their existing skills and tools.
“Microsoft is committed to delivering tools for developers of all skill sets, while offering a consistent, integrated experience for software development teams, and providing a secure, reliable solution for developing high quality applications for the latest platforms,” says Dave Mendlen, director of Developer Marketing at Microsoft.
Building a Foundation for Innovation
In September, Microsoft outlined their vision for Visual Studio 2010 and the .NET Framework 4.0 by describing five focus areas: Democratizing ALM (Application Lifecycle Management), Breakthrough Departmental Applications, Inspiring Developer Delight, Riding the Next Generation Platform Wave and Enabling Emerging Trends.
This week at PDC, the dialogue around those focus areas continues, with details on ways to make it easy for developers to use their existing Visual Studio and .NET skills to develop for “the cloud” – software that resides primarily on the web but spans the server, PC and mobile devices as well.
Microsoft also provided a deeper look at the next generation platform opportunities by announcing that Visual Studio 2010 will be optimized to help developers build Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 applications and take advantage of new Web development features.
These highlights build on a series of recent announcements about new technologies designed to help developers create new software experiences, including:
New enhancements to the Windows Server application capabilities, including Windows Communication Foundation 4.0, Windows Workflow Foundation 4.0, and “Dublin” extensions to Windows Server.
Visual Studio 2010 programming models for concisely expressing “concurrency,” or the ability for applications to efficiently run multiple instructions on a “multicore” or “manycore” processing chip, including new .NET Framework libraries such as the Task Parallel Library and Parallel LINQ, as well as the Parallel Pattern Library and Concurrency Runtime for developing native applications with C++.
Ongoing investments in the .NET Framework through the addition of new functionality in Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF). For cloud computing and services, the tools are available today as separate add-ons for Microsoft Visual Studio 2008 SP1 (Standard Edition or better), and for Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2008 Express Edition SP1. Support for Microsoft Visual Studio 2010 will be available in the near future.
According to Mendlen, the strategy is based on a high-level perspective of the development ecosystem, and the realization that the ultimate goal for every developer is to build engaging, practical new applications for end users.
“By working to make the process of developing simpler and more efficient, we’re empowering developers to focus on using the power of technology to address the needs of today’s marketplace,” he says.
New Platform and Modeling Tools for Declarative Development
Today software development is increasingly characterized by describing processes and links in applications, and less by writing lines and lines of new code. This so-called “model” approach has the potential to save developers untold hours in creating new applications.
“In order to make model-driven development a reality, Microsoft is focused on providing a platform and visual modeling tools that make it easy for all ‘mainstream’ users, including information workers, developers, database architects, software architects business analysts and IT Professionals, to collaborate throughout the application development lifecycle,” says Steven Martin, senior director of Microsoft’s Connected Systems Division.
According to Martin, since modeling is also a key bridge between designing and deploying on-premise and cloud-based applications or components, Microsoft delivered the community technology preview for its new modeling platform this week, dubbed “Oslo” which is made up of three technologies — a language, a relational repository and a new developer tool, code named “Quadrant.”
“Oslo will enable developers to define solutions across cloud and on-premise environments, built on a consistent modeling experience,” Martin says. “Ultimately we’re aiming to reduce the complexity inherent in building large scale distributed applications.”
A member of the Visual Studio family, the “Quadrant” tool is designed to help define and interact with programming models in a rich and visual manner, including support for the “M” programming language that allows developers to create and use textual domain-specific languages and data models.
Microsoft announced its commitment to publish the “M” language specification under the Open Specification Promise (OSP), which makes it possible for third parties, including open source projects, to build implementations of “M” for other runtimes, services, applications and operating systems.
According to Martin, by putting model-driven innovation directly into the .NET platform, Microsoft is working to help organizations gain visibility and control over applications, ensure they are building systems based on the right requirements, simplify the stages of development and re-use, and enable developers to resolve potential issues at a high level before the company starts committing resources.
“Modeling has been heralded as a means to break down technology and role ‘silos’ in application development, and to assist IT departments in delivering more effective business strategies,” says Martin. “Microsoft believes that modeling is a way to tackle the complexity of distributed application development by helping developers and IT pros to create applications from models, and then execute the models in different runtimes as needed. Our model-driven investments with Oslo will help realize the vision of Dynamic IT by connecting runtimes across Microsoft products such as Windows Server, .NET Framework, Visual Studio, BizTalk Server, SharePoint, and System Center.”
Making it Simpler to Manage Data Across Multiple Sources
In building today’s business applications, developers need to access, manage and synchronize multiple sources of data. With Visual Studio 2008, developers can rapidly take advantage of offline synchronization capabilities to sync-enable applications and services easily, with rich support for designers.
Beginning this week, developers can download the community technology preview of the Sync Framework v2. By embedding the new Sync Framework into their applications, developers can now easily enable any type of data to follow users and customers wherever they go.
“The Microsoft Sync Framework extends the support featured in Visual Studio 2008 to also include offline and peer-to-peer collaboration using any protocol for any data type, and any data store,” says Mark Linton, director of Application Platform Marketing for Microsoft. “This is part of Microsoft’s long-term commitment to providing synchronization for partners and ISVs (Independent Software Vendors).”
In addition, the ADO.NET Entity Framework will enable developers to develop rich applications on top of any data source including SQL Server, IBM DB2, Oracle and many others, meeting developers’ needs for a provider-agnostic approach to data.
“Working with data is a big challenge for a lot of applications and services,” Linton says. “These technologies can help overcome that hurdle, so developers can build new ways to use the data itself and improve the end user experience.”
Along with greater access to and synchronization of data, another new technology announced this week allows information to move faster along the pipeline — Microsoft released the next community technology preview of a new application cache platform code-named “Velocity,” designed to make it easy for organizations to accelerate the development of new applications.
“Velocity” increases performance of applications by moving the data out of the data store and closer to the application in the middle tier, significantly reducing the number of trips made to and from the data store to retrieve it,” says Linton. “Velocity provides developers with a simple and integrated set of APIs, allowing them to easily cache data in the application memory, along with the session state or any other CLR Object.”
Project “Velocity” is also integrated with ASP.NET and the .NET Framework, and will be available for no cost in summer of 2009.
A New Model to Simplify Identity Management
Another time-consuming task for developers today, according to Linton, is managing user identities, which is becoming more important with the growth of cloud-based computing and its associated need for new ways to access software and services from any location or device.
“Working with user identities in applications is hard for developers today, because they must choose from many different identity technologies, and hard-code custom user access logic into every application,” says Linton. “This takes time away from core development work.”
To address this issue, Microsoft announced a new identify management strategy at PDC today, starting with a single, simplified identity model, code-named “Geneva” that works for on-premises and cloud-based applications in the enterprise, in federated networks, and on the consumer Web, using interoperable standards that can interface with a variety of technologies including WS-* and SAML. Geneva consists of three components:
Geneva Framework, which helps developers build claims-aware applications and services that externalize user authentication from the application
Geneva Server, a security token service (STS) that issues and transforms claims, manages user access, and enables automated federation
Windows CardSpace Geneva, which helps users navigate access decisions between multiple identities and control how personal information is used
Also announced as part of Microsoft’s cloud strategy are Microsoft Services Connector and .NET Access Control Service, which are both built on “Geneva” technology and share the same claims architecture.
Preparing for Windows 7
For Visual Studio 2010, the company has also invested heavily in C++ to ease development of native Windows applications.
“We are adding tools to assist developers in building new Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 applications and enabling existing native applications to take advantage of new Windows features,” Linton says.
According to Linton, the support includes full library and header support for Windows 7, significant updates to MFC to support Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008 R2 UI elements like the ribbon, live icons, search access, and even support for multi-touch enabled interfaces.
“With Windows 7, existing applications will have access to all the new features offered by Microsoft’s latest operating systems,” Linton says. “This gives developers even more opportunities to build engaging features into their applications.”