Microsoft plans to release its first "Orcas" beta this month, giving developers a peek at the next version of its Visual Studio development tools.
The company hasn't set a target launch date for Orcas, and it expects to release at least one more beta after the first one, Microsoft Developer Division head S. "Soma" Somasegar said in an interview on Monday.
"We'll play it by ear. We know we need another beta," he said. "We need to make sure that we are able to look at the feedback and take time to incorporate it."
Orca's first beta won't be feature-complete, but it will be more robust than the Community Technology Preview releases that Microsoft has dropped throughout the past year.
Microsoft recently shipped its last software development kit update for Visual Studio 2005, its current Visual Studio edition, as it shifted more development resources to Orcas.
Microsoft's top focus in Orcas is to provide an optimal toolset for its latest platforms, including Vista, Office 2007 and the upcoming "Longhorn" Windows Server, Somasegar said.
Visual Studio 2005, released two and a half years ago, doesn't have the rich tools that Microsoft wants to offer. For example, Orcas will include a graphical designer for working on Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) applications, a feature that the current Visual Studio lacks. Though tailored for Vista development, Orcas will also run under Windows XP, according to Microsoft.
Orcas also will share a project system with Microsoft's new Expression line of design development software to make it easier for programmers and designers to collaborate on projects. Microsoft recently announced plans to release two of its Expression products, Expression Web and Blend, to MSDN Premium subscribers at no extra cost, a move that pleased users.
"We see a world where developers and designers have to come together even more closely," Somasegar said.
Partners say WPF, the graphical presentation subsystem that underpins Vista, heralds a sea change in Windows application development. Developers expect ISV adoption to take time, especially given the mixed reaction Vista has earned, but boxy gray Windows applications may finally become relics.
"WPF is going to do to desktop applications what Adobe Flash did to the Web," predicted Rodney Guzman, CTO of InterKnowlogy, an application development and services firm in Carlsbad, Calif. "We're finding we need more design skills now than we've ever needed before. We're dealing with things in a much more artistic way."
Tim Marshall, vice president of technology at Neudesic, a Microsoft Gold partner in Irvine, Calif., called WPF the "gold nugget inside Vista."
"It's going to change how application software is built," Marshall said. "It will lift the standards for what consumers expect from consumer software."
While Orcas develops, Microsoft will be working in parallel on "Rosario," the next iteration of its Visual Studio Team System line, which launched in late 2005. Being built atop Orcas, Rosario won't be ready for public viewing for another six to nine months, according to Somasegar.
Orcas and Rosario will be released on a staggered timetable, he said. New versions of Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, a collaboration server that made its debut last year, will ship with Orcas and Rosario.