VS .Net a major step forward: Gates

Visual Studio .Net is a new kind of programming tool for a new generation of applications, according to Bill Gates.

Speaking at VSLive!, a developer’s conference held recently in San Francisco, Microsoft’s chief software architect ushered in the official launch of the development system with a keynote address in which he said that the software industry is currently undergoing a paradigm shift.

“It’s fair to say…software advances can play the central role in the advances in the economy. The productivity improvements over the last several decades have really been driven by software.”

One such transition was the move from character-mode development tools, such as MS-DOS, to the graphical interface.

“That was a tough one, because the hardware, at first, was a little slow, and it was fairly difficult to do the actual development.”

The move from tools such as Microsoft Basic, Turbo Pascal and Quick Basic to products such as Visual Basic, Power Builder and Delphi was not easy, Gates said.

The Internet presented yet another landscape for programmers, he said.

“This really changed the paradigm to be an application on a server delivering HTML to a browser…And that was a very important change, but as people talked about the potential of the Internet, they realized this idea of only having the intelligence on one end was limiting, that the really key applications that people wanted to develop involved having intelligence on both ends.”

This will allow the user to see information from many different Web sites, allowing them to edit and annotate that information.

“This required an architecture that’s different than anything that existed in the commercial world before,” Gates said. XML Web services will allow disparate systems to be interoperable with each other, he said.

“It’s a new approach to programming. This is really message-based programming. And yet, we need to make this transition without going back to people and saying, there’s only one language that’s a good language, or saying to people that they need to rebuild their software. We need to show them a way to transition to this approach in an evolutionary way.”

Companies need to be able to build a simple layer on their application that does the XML services mapping so that they can integrate disparate systems together in a rich way, Gates said.

“Over time, of course, applications will be rebuilt around these concepts, and that will make the applications simpler, easier to modify, and far more effective,” he said.

The .Net platform is Microsoft’s answer to this latest paradigm shift.

“We, in fact, about three years ago bet the company on this Web services paradigm. We said, this is the new thing, and we’re going to put all our energy into it,” Gates said.

“Today is a major step forward in letting people build the next generation of applications, the applications designed around XML Web services,” he said. “That was a founding principle of the design in Visual Studio .Net. When we started out, we said, ‘Wow, this could be one of the biggest pieces of work we’ve ever had to do on a tool.’ Usually, we like to have two-year product cycles. But this one, we not only increased the R&D, but it was a three-year cycle to get all those pieces done. But we needed to have a comprehensive capability for these kind of applications.”

Microsoft wanted companies to be able to use whichever language they wanted, and the Visual Studio .Net integrated development environment supports over 20 languages, including C, C++, Visual C#, Fortran, COBOL and Java.

“Virtually all the different, new languages being developed are being hosted in this Visual Studio .Net environment. So it’s one integrated development environment, one framework, one debugger and over 20 different languages we’re supporting here.”