Microsoft Visual Studio 8 offers rich Internet application tools

Microsoft Corp.’s announcement on Monday of the release of Visual Studio 2008 revealed a Silverlight-based development platform for building Web applications – functionality the company said should boost its presence in the rich internet application (RIA) arena.

The successor to Visual Studio 2005 bundles Web functionality that allows developers to build, within the toolkit, Silverlight and Ajax-based apps. ASP.NET libraries are also accessible within the software.

The move to facilitate Web application development is in response to an increasingly stronger view among businesses that the Web is a key strategic channel, said Rini Gahir, senior product manager for Microsoft’s developer platform division.

Adding RIA development functionality to a commonly-used development toolkit like Visual Studio will also help leverage the Redmond, Wash.-based company’s presence in the RIA space, he said.

“This is definitely an area that we are taking seriously and enabling our developers and designers to not just build cool stuff, but stuff that businesses are demanding,” he said, adding that rich media functionality is already present across Microsoft products like Windows Vista,, and Virtual Earth.

Visual Studio 2008 is an important announcement for Microsoft, taking the company deeper into the realm of Web application development, said Kevin Restivo, senior research analyst with Toronto, Ont.-based research firm IDC Canada.

It’s a move against rivals in the RIA space, like San Jose, Calif.-based Adobe Systems Inc. and the open source community, but specifically, “it’s a direct shot across the bow at Adobe specifically”, he said.

With the 2008 version, Microsoft is essentially “playing catch up” to the other vendor offerings out there, but given the company is the world’s largest software developer, Restivo anticipates the software giant will eventually get there.

According to Gahir, the fact that the Microsoft application development technologies are ubiquitous and familiar to most developers will facilitate development and deployment of apps built in Visual Studio 2008, and therefore drive adoption of the toolkit.

Microsoft’s advantage in any new arena is the broad array of application tools and resultant interoperability between its software, agreed Restivo. “Microsoft’s advantage is that it already has the attention of the developer community. It stands to deepen those relationships by providing those developers with extra functionality.”

“Silverlight is particularly key to those developer activities given that rich media is prevalent to say the least, and it’s only going to become more important over time.”

According to software developer Chris Cavanagh, offering the Silverlight-based platform in the latest release of Visual Studio is a “great move” by Microsoft. “Combining Silverlight’s presentation abilities with a high-performance, cross-platform version of the .NET Framework opens up some awesome possibilities,” he said in an e-mail.

Cavanagh said he thinks Silverlight’s presentation abilities make the Microsoft technology a “serious challenger to Adobe’s Flex and AIR.” Furthermore, Adobe has yet to catch up to Microsoft’s caliber of development tools, documentation and support, he said. “So it’ll be interesting to see how things turn out.”

Besides granting developers that added Web functionality, the toolkit addresses the historically different tools and approaches that designers and developers have taken toward application creation, said Gahir.

Providing a platform amenable to both camps is part of the company’s roadmap for software development platforms, he said, adding that Expression Studio, a Web and desktop application design suite released this past summer, also seeks to merge developer and designer roles.

Among other new functionality in Visual Studio 2008 is “multi-targeted support” allowing developers to build .NET applications that support .NET 2 or .NET 3, said Gahir.

As well, the 2008 version includes the Language Integrated Query (LINQ) allowing users to more efficiently integrate applications with databases.

Visual Studio 2008 will be available end of November.

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