New Visual Studio .Net syncs up

Microsoft Corp. recently announced plans to synchronize future versions of its Visual Studio .Net development tools with the release of key products, including its upcoming Windows .Net Server operating system and SQL Server database.

That means the next version of the Visual Studio .Net tool suite, code-named Everett, is due in the first quarter of next year, when Windows .Net Server is expected to become generally available, according to Chris Flores, a product manager in Microsoft’s .Net tools group. The long-delayed Windows .Net Server will be the first Microsoft operating system to have the .Net framework code built into it.

But the Visual Studio Everett release, which has yet to be officially named or priced, is being viewed only as an “incremental release,” compared with the major new versions pegged to ship with the next version of Microsoft’s SQL Server, code-named Yukon, and the upcoming Windows operating system, code-named Longhorn.

The most critical new twist for Visual Studio for Yukon, which is due in 2004, will be the inclusion of Microsoft’s Common Language Runtime (CLR) inside the SQL Server engine, Flores noted. The CLR, which is part of Microsoft’s .Net framework, allows programs written in more than 20 languages to run on Windows.

With the CLR built into SQL Server, developers will be able to program for SQL Server using the same language and Visual Studio .Net tools they use to write their desktop- and server-based applications, Flores said. Today, developers typically use the T-SQL language for Microsoft database programming, but with the Visual Studio for Yukon release, they will be able to use Visual Basic, C#, J#, C++ and other CLR-supported languages to write to databases, he said.

Flores said database programmers will also gain the benefits of a richer integrated development environment, complete with debugger and editor.

But it remains to be seen how many developers will use Visual Studio tools to program to databases, since many companies have database analysts who now do that using T-SQL.

Mike Gilpin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., noted that IBM Corp., Oracle Corp. and Sybase Inc. built Java virtual machines into their databases, yet “people kind of yawned” and stuck with their old, familiar stored procedures rather than switching to Java to put business logic into their databases. But Microsoft users may be more inclined to try the new approach because they’re accustomed to tightly integrated Microsoft products, Gilpin said.

“I could leverage a standard set of skills within my IT organization,” said Neville Teagarden, CIO at Navigant International Inc. in Englewood, Colo. He said his database analysts should adapt quickly, and the new approach would ultimately help IT “to move quicker.”

Beyond Yukon, Microsoft is planning another major release of Visual Studio .Net in 2005 to coincide with Longhorn, according to a company spokesman. Visual Studio for Longhorn will be tightly tied to the new operating system and will allow developers to take advantage of its new model for file system storage, Flores said.

More near term, the primary focus of Visual Studio Everett will be enhanced reliability, stability, security and performance, Flores said. “If you’re an existing ’02 developer, you’re really going to look at this as a refinement and maturity release,” he said.

Existing Visual Studio .Net customers will be able to upgrade to the Everett tool for US$29 if they’re not covered by Software Assurance or a Microsoft Developer Network subscription, Flores said.