Microsoft Plans Free Visual Studio Shell Version For Partners

Microsoft unveiled the offical name of the software formerly code-namded Orcas at TechEd 2007 in Orlando, Fla., where it also announced plans for Visual Studio Shell, the next iteration of its bare-bones Visual Studio offering for partners that wish to distribute their custom tooling atop the Visual Studio IDE.

Visual Studio Shell, which will ship concurrently with Visual Studio 2008 and be included in the beta 2 release due out this summer, is the successor to Visual Studio 2005's Premier Partner Edition (PPE). The stripped-down software is essentially a shell that ISVs can license and bundle with their own offerings. Initially created for developers that wanted to offer custom language support -- Intel ships an Intel Visual Fortran version -- the new version will support additional uses.

"One of the things we found was that partners kept asking us for ways to build on top of Visual Studio that went beyond what the original PPE enabled," said Joe Marini, Microsoft's group product manager of developer marketing for the Visual Studio Industry Partner program.

One key change in Visual Studio Shell is that it will support an "isolated" deployment option. With Visual Studio 2005, when a user installed PPE on a machine already running a full Visual Studio 2005 deployment, the full Visual Studio inherited the PPE-delivered custom language and integrated it as an additional language option. Visual Studio Shell makes that integration optional, allowing ISVs to deliver a custom-branded application that will exist in tandem with Visual Studio.

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Delta Tau Data Systems, a machine control systems and hardware maker, plans to take advantage of the new functionality to deliver its developer tools.

"Many of our customers are Visual Studio users, so the ability to use our tools from within Visual Studio is very important to them," Delta Tau Vice-President of Sales Dominic Dimitri said in a statement. "It also gives us a very professional look-and-feel."

Microsoft offers Visual Studio Shell licenses free to partners that wish to incorporate them into their own products.

TechEd features a number of training sessions on Visual Studio 2008, which doesn't have an official release date but is widely expected to ship by the end of the year. Microsoft's official stance is that it will gather more feedback after Visual Studio 2008's second beta drop, scheduled for this summer, and decide after that when the software is ready for release.

Though Visual Studio team executives haven't publicly committed to shipping in 2007, server and tools head Bob Muglia's Monday keynote at Tech Ed listed Visual Studio 2008 among the products Microsoft plans to ship later this year.

As Visual Studio 2008's release nears, the software's final feature set will remain in flux until at least the second beta. Shortly after releasing its first Orcas beta, Microsoft stripped the software of one expected feature, the ADO.NET Entity Framework.

Major innovations that will definitely appear in Visual Studio 2008 include the Windows Presentation Foundation Designer and LINQ for SQL, the first piece of Microsoft's long-gestating LINQ technlogy for querying data natively in C# or Visual Basic.