Microsoft Web Services Tools Invite--And Challenge

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2002-02-13 Print this article Print

Visual Studio .Net redraws app development playing field, but others are still in the game.

The first time you see a dancing bear, youre likely to be impressed that it can dance at all; you probably wont cavil if it steps on its trainers toes once or twice. Microsoft Corp.s Visual Studio .Net, launched today in San Francisco after what has sometimes seemed an endless wait, dances fairly well--and our feet are merely bruised, thank you, with no broken bones that weve yet noticed. Microsoft has taken on the challenge of making distributed Web services and nonvisual, server-side application elements as accessible to developers as it made the resources of a stand-alone Windows PC with the original Visual Basic. The resulting product is a good deal more than just the next generation of "edit, compile, debug, repeat, release." The product comes in several editions, with a feature matrix online at The fully loaded Visual Studio .Net Enterprise Architect is priced at $2,499. Visual Studio .Net Enterprise Developer is $1,799. Visual Studio .Net Professional is $1,079. Standard editions of Visual Basic .Net, Visual C++ .Net and Visual C# .Net are also available for $109. This review addresses features common to the Professional edition and later but does not examine the application test and life-cycle management tools of the higher-priced Enterprise editions, or the Unified Modeling Language-based visual design tools found in Enterprise Architect only.
A feature matrix alone, however, doesnt adequately capture the new feel of this product. If the integrated environment of the 1990s was a compiler with tools wrapped around it, the integrated environment of the Web services era might be characterized as an Internet portal--with development tools among the resources it offers. Without the portal elements, the tools to build Web services would be almost as useless as owning the only telephone in the world: No matter how well it works, on its own, its value is in the conversations it enables.
When you go through the Visual Studio .Net portal, youre not in Kansas anymore. (Chorus from offstage: "No, youre in Redmond, Wash.!") Developers examining this tool set will want answers to a yin and yang of complementary questions. First, can it do what they want? Second, will it force them to do things that they dont want? Answering those questions requires a reviewer to consider some novel issues.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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