Partners Pleased With Microsoft's Visual Studio Moves

"I think it's a good move. They should have made it a long time ago, but I'm happy they're doing it now," Developer Express Chief Architect Mark Miller said about Microsoft's announcement this week that it will share Visual Studio source code with partner ISVs who need it for debugging and product integration purposes.

Developers Express, based in Las Vegas, makes .Net control suites and add-on programmer tooling for Visual Studio developers. Because it integrates tightly with Visual Studio, Developer Express had previously run into thorny problems and requested debug builds from Microsoft to work out tricky issues.

Microsoft partner Infragistics, another creator of tools and components for .Net developers, also anticipates taking advantage of source-code access if needed.

"In the past, you've had to work around things, and it can be a hindrance," said Anthony Lombardo, a lead technical evangelist for Infragistics in Princeton, N.J. "Having that option available is definitely good."

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Infragistics is one of several dozen ISVs tightly linking its own product line to Microsoft's new wave of developer tools: Its subscription-based NetAdvantge tool set will ship within 30 days of Microsoft's Visual Studio 2008 release.

Lombardo, who has been using Visual Studio 2008 for his own development ever since the "relatively solid" beta 2 release in July, said he thinks developers will move fairly quickly to the new version -- especially since, unlike past Visual Studio releases, it does not force developers to work only with the latest version of the .Net framework. A feature called "multitargeting" enables Visual Studio 2008 to be used for development on any .Net Framework 2.0 platform or higher, up through the .Net Framework 3.5 version that will ship concurrently with the new Visual Studio.

"Once you see all of the features, you don't want to go back to the old version," Lombardo said. Better JavaScript debugging and integrated support for Silverlight, Microsoft's new Flash-rivaling multimedia client, are two of his favorite enhancements.

Microsoft Developer Division General Manager Scott Guthrie highlighted a number of Visual Studio 2008's selling points in a keynote presentation at this week's DevConnections conference, being held in Las Vegas. Among the major advances: improved tools for Web development like CSS editing, support for the .Net Framework 3.5's groundbreaking LINQ (Language Integrated Query) syntax for using standard operators to query heterogeneous data sources like relational databases and XML, and built-in integration of Microsoft's ASP.NET Ajax framework (codenamed "Atlas"). Visual Studio 2008 also incorporates features previously broken out into standalone products, like the Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) toolkit for building atop Microsoft Office and adjusting its look-and-feel.

One partner-focused offering drawing interest among solution providers is Visual Studio Shell, a new product that will launch as part of the Visual Studio 2008 wave. Microsoft's Shell enables outside developers to create custom-purpose IDEs drawing on Visual Studio's functionality and features. Playing to the geek audience, Microsoft used World of Warcraft (WoW) in its demos: it showed off a Visual Studio Shell environment customized for WoW's Lua UI-customization programming interface and enabling the creation of add-on features for the game.

"Not only does Visual Studio give you the ultimate in business productivity, you can triple kill your opponents," Guthrie quipped.

Several partners at the show said they're intrigued by Visual Studio Shell's potential. Todd Schick, director of business development for .Net components developer ComponentOne in Pittsburg, Penn., said his company is thinking about ways to use the shell to bundle their components with Visual Studio functionality into custom IDEs tailored for different industry verticals.

"We may put together a package for offshort companies that do outsourcing, that include our controls," Schick said. "There are some possibilities for us. We're thinking about it."