Microsoft kicked off a series of technical conferences this week by pledging to release Visual Studio 2008 by the end of November, making the developer IDE the first of three major Windows platform updates scheduled to ship within the next year.
Microsoft also announced two significant licensing changes around Visual Studio that will be a boon for partners. First, the company said it will soon initiate a shared-source licensing program for Visual Studio and make the IDE's source code available to ISV partners for debugging purposes. Microsoft also removed a licensing restriction that previously limited use of the Visual Studio software development kit (SDK) to development only around Microsoft's platforms: partners will now be free to create Visual Studio-based applications and extensions on Linux and other non-Windows platforms.
"The genesis of this announcement has been that as Visual Studio has become more popular, we've had a lot of customers and partners come to us with interesting scenarios for targeting non-Microsoft platforms," said Shawn Nandi, a business development executive with Microsoft's Developer Division.
Partner clamoring also drove Microsoft's decision to loosen its grip on its source code and share the details of Visual Studio's inner workings with close ISVs. Some thorny debugging and integration issues will be easier to solve with access to Visual Studio's inner workings.
"For some of the top ISVs, in particular, having access to the source code makes developing on our platform that much easier," said Scott Guthrie, a Microsoft Developer Division general manager. "It's something that a lot of people have asked for."
The fine print of the shared-source plans are still being worked out, but Microsoft executives said they expect to commence the program within the next few weeks. The shared-source access will be limited to premier-level partners in Microsoft's Visual Studio Industry Partner (VSIP) program, a tier that currently covers around 85 partners. VSIP Premier status is available to any ISV willing to pay the program's $10,000 annual participation fee, which carries a three-year minimum.
Particularly within its Developer Division, Microsoft has gradually shown a greater willingness to soften its stance on source-code secrecy and factor customer feedback into its licensing decisions. Last month, Microsoft announced that it would open chunks of its .Net source code to aid developers' debugging efforts.
"I think there's a growing philosophy that says we need to work better with our ecosystem and be much more transparent," says Developer Tools Marketing Director Dave Mendlen. "What would in years past have been a religious debate is becoming less so."
.Net source access will be built right into Visual Studio 2008, allowing developers to reference the code while debugging from within the application. It's one of a number of changes aimed at making Visual Studio's latest iteration irresistible to developers.
Another significant advance is "multitargeting" support for older versions of .Net back to .Net 2.0 -- a change for Microsoft, which previously linked Visual Studio to only the current version of its .Net framework, often forcing developers to use multiple versions of Visual Studio to maintain projects linked to different .Net iterations. Other updates include stronger support for Web application development, support for the .Net Framework 3.5's long awaited LINQ (Language Integrated Query) querying syntax breakthrough, and a host of usability enhancements.
A full rundown of Visual Studio 2008's advances will be spotlighted in Guthrie's keynote tomorrow morning at DevConnections, a Las Vegas technical conference running in parallel with Microsoft's TechEd show in Barcelona.