Microsofts Mix conference this week in Las Vegas will be the venue for news surrounding its Web 2.0 strategy. A key part of that strategy is "Atlas," the companys AJAX development tool, for which Microsoft will release a new preview at the show.
Past Go-Live licenses have been associated with late betas of products. However, customers have been asking for a Go-Live license, and Microsoft officials said Atlas code is stable enough. Developers, though, should be aware that there is no official support from Microsoft and that the upgrade path is to continue with future Go-Live CTP releases of Atlas.
Microsoft also is expected to show off its Expression suite of design tools. However, although the company has delivered March CTPs for its Expression Interactive Designer and Expression Graphic Designer, a first CTP for its Expression Web Designer wont be forthcoming at the show.
In the meantime, Microsoft is rethinking how, when and if it should issue betas for testing and development. The company may move soon to a new model in which various product groups release more frequent, less thoroughly tested builds—a strategy similar to one on which open-source developers rely.
Microsofts Engineering Excellence unit, headed by Jon DeVaan, is overseeing a project to re-engineer the way software is developed. DeVaan, a member of the software makers central Business Leadership Team, manages the engineering standards used to create Microsofts software products.
With feedback from the companys Windows Core Operating Systems Division and its Office, development tool and applications units, DeVaan is spearheading a fundamental change to Microsofts engineering process in which major product units will do more "virtual teaming" across divisional lines. At the same time, these teams will rely on CTPs—or whatever Microsoft ultimately ends up calling the more frequent test builds—rather than betas to speed up the product development and testing cycles.
Microsofts SQL Server team, under Senior Vice President of Server Applications Paul Flessner, is moving in this direction. If Flessner prevails with what he describes as the "SQL Server re-engineering initiative," it will be a beta-free world for SQL Server developers and testers. With "Katmai," the next major version of SQL Server, Flessner said he plans to move to a pure CTP/no-beta model.
Flessner said he expects the new engineering process to have an immediate and beneficial effect on product shipping cycles for everything from the next version of SQL Server to WinFS, the Windows File System code.
Based on a tighter timetable, Katmai would be a 2007 or 2008 deliverable. SQL Server 2005 Service Pack 1 will also come to market more quickly. Microsoft on March 15 released its first CTP for SP1, and Flessner estimates that the final service pack code should be ready in April, many months quicker than the typical service pack is developed and tested.