Its no surprise, though, that the list of supported device types is a catalog of Microsoft initiatives: Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone Edition, and any other platforms that might emerge with support for the .Net Compact Framework. Making a valiant effort to keep our cynicism in check, we sincerely compliment Microsofts tool-smiths on their success in integrating Pocket PC development and testing into the Visual Studio environment. Having been on the receiving end of months of buildup for this aspect of the 2003 tool set, we decided to give it a worst-case test by installing the tools and simply diving in to build a Pocket PC application without the slightest reference to documentation or tutorials. We were impressed to find ourselves, literally minutes later, testing a Pocket PC application on the included emulator software.All of the 2003 editions of Visual Studio also include the Visual Basic Upgrade Wizard that migrates applications from Visual Basic 6.0 to Visual Basic .Net. For the first time, this migration aid is also included in the VB-only Standard edition: We suspect that Microsoft desperately desires to purge the developer community of all those VB6 legacy habits and expectations. Theres no question that Visual Basic .Net is a superior language, with its full object-oriented inheritance mechanisms and much improved error handling (vital for network applications whose resource availability may come and go). The improved migration tools in the 2003 package assist with User Controls and Web Classes, which were previously unaddressed, but even Microsoft only claims "up to 95 percent" automatic migration: Developers know what that last 5 percent can mean to cost and schedule. Speaking of numbers that fall slightly short of 100 percent, Microsoft claims the 2003 release of Visual C++ offers "98 percent conformance" with the ISO C++ standard. We leave it to developers to evaluate the importance, outside of a computer science classroom, of the 2003 compilers new support for Partial Template Specialization and Partial Ordering of Function Templates. As Kernighan and Plauger famously asked: If youre as clever as you can be when you write your code, how will you ever debug it? Additional buffer-overflow prevention diagnostics, along with compiler diagnostics that reference source file locations rather than template library locations, will probably be of more practical everyday value. The initial release of the Visual Studio .Net tools included awkward opportunities for confusionas, for example, when a change to one view of a project was not reflected in other views. Visual Studio .Net 2003 showed improvement in this area: We found it more difficult to produce such inconsistencies in the 2003 tool set, and those inconsistencies were easier to resolve. Tools such as the graphical XML editor have also been strengthened, now offering more useful views of complex schema that overwhelmed last years version. Visual Studio .Net 2003 is still not the one best-integrated development environment for all enterprise needs. To state the obvious, its only hosted on Windows, unlike the Linux and Mac OS X offerings available from Borland, Metrowerks and others. The .Net Common Language Runtime is certainly a safer place to run with scissors than the Microsoft run-time environments of years past, but the Java platform has also been maturing and enjoys deep-pocketed support from IBM and other enterprise kingmakers. Developers writing the massive amounts of code in embedded devices and low-level system software will find powerful organizational aids in tools like Source Dynamics Source Insight and SlickEdits Visual SlickEdit programmers editors. But for developers targeting Windows on the server, on the PC client, or under Microsofts widening umbrella of other types of devices, Visual Studio .Net 2003 does more and annoys us less than any previous version. And as Microsoft has often shown, consistent improvement from one year to the next is often more important than where you start. Technology Editor Peter Coffee can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Developers may be understandably nervous about using their own Pocket PCs as testbeds, and Microsoft has anticipated this concern. Buyers who register their purchase of Visual Studio .Net 2003 before June 30 will receive a ViewSonic Corp. V37 Pocket PC, subject to available supply.