Microsoft Delivers Upgrades in .Net 3.5 SP1 Beta

The service pack betas of Visual Studio 2008 and .Net 3.5 are loaded with features and fixes.

With much fanfare, Microsoft on May 12 released a beta of Visual Studio 2008 and .Net Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 that offers a number of customer-driven features.

S. Somasegar, senior vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, said in a blog that the service pack beta "enables an improved developer experience by adding a number of additional components that cover a range of highly requested customer features. For example, the service pack is the first release for Visual Studio 2008 that delivers full support for SQL Server 2008 and the ADO.Net Entity Framework."

Somasegar said that in the new beta, developers will find improved functionality and performance in the WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation) designers, additional components and tools for Visual Basic and Visual C++ including an MFC (Microsoft Foundation Classes)-based Office 2007 Ribbon and various stability fixes, richer JavaScript features, improved Web development and site deployment, and performance improvements for the IDE (integrated development environment).

In addition, the .Net 3.5 service pack includes improvements to VSTS (Visual Studio Team System), such as updated "Add to Source Control" dialogs, drag-and-drop support from Windows Explorer to the Source Control Explorer and version control of unbound files, he said.

"From a .Net Framework perspective, SP1 introduces more controls, streamlined setup, improved start-up performance and powerful new graphics features for client development and rich data 'scaffolding,' and improved AJAX [Asynchronous JavaScript and XML]," he said.

However, in what appears to be a standout feature among the many new ones in the release, Somasegar said he is "very excited about the introduction of the .Net Framework Client Profile, a smaller .Net Framework Redist optimized for client scenarios. Some of the benefits of this profile are immediate responsiveness with a 200K bootstrapper to enable the fastest response to the application setup URL, an integrated custom UI allowing packaging of your application and the framework for a seamless install experience, and lastly incredible install speed at 26.5MB [this translates to about 6 minutes on a typical connection]."

Dynamic Data Expression also is a new feature in ASP.Net that dynamically builds a fully functional Web site from a LINQ (Language Integrated Query) to SQL or Entity Framework data model, Somasegar said.

Meanwhile, in a separate blog about the performance enhancements in the service pack, David Berg, senior program manager of the Developer Division Performance Engineering Team, said Visual Studio 2008 SP1 is packed with new features, major updates to frameworks and fixes.

"VS2008 SP1 includes a new installation/update engine," Berg said. "You just download the installer, which then analyzes your system installation, and only downloads the components you need. Thus a default installation of VS2008 Team System will only download about 600MB [and less still if you don't have all the default components installed]. Download performance will vary substantially based on your Internet connection and network contention; however, it generally outperforms an IE file download, and will automatically restart in the middle if your network connection drops out and comes back."

The new installation engine is also much faster than VS2005 SP1, installing twice as much updates in less than half the time, he said.

The service pack includes improvements on the WPF designer, such as a 10 to 20 percent improvement in startup time, he said. The service pack also features overall performance improvements in editing, the build process, the CLR (Common Language Runtime), the debugger and TFS (Team Foundation Server). TFS performance improvements include improved syncing identities from Active Directory, improved check-in concurrency, online index rebuilding, a faster security manager and more, Berg said.

However, he said there are a couple of known performance issues in Visual Studio 2008 SP1 that are still outstanding. "We haven't yet fully resolved some Web Editing issues where you may experience poor performance when typing in design view or during design/source view switch; and in the new Data Entity support UndoDeleteProductEntity is slower than we'd like; we expect to fix it for RTM [Release to Manufacturing]," he said.

In a separate blog post, Tim Sneath, a Microsoft client platform technical evangelist and WPF champion, touted the virtues of WPF for the enterprise.

"Our early expectation was that WPF would be used primarily for consumer software: The assumption was that animation, rich media, flow documents, 2D and 3D graphics, etc. would be primarily of interest to those kinds of applications," Sneath said. "In fact, it's been surprising how many enterprise applications have taken advantage of it: architectural patterns such as the data templating and binding model and the separation of UI from code have turned out to be even more compelling reasons to adopt WPF in many cases."

With the Visual Studio 2008 SP1 beta, developers can target the Client Profile through a checkbox in the setup project template, Sneath said. Moreover, shortly after Visual Studio 2008 SP1 ships, Microsoft will release an add-in that will provide developers with the ability to completely customize the look and feel of Client Profile installer, he said.

Sneath said the .Net Framework 3.2 SP1 is a revision that brings WPF into prime time. "I genuinely believe we've nailed all the most-common criticisms of WPF as a desktop platform with this release: a much better deployment story, some amazing new graphics capabilities, across-the-board performance improvements, the three most commonly-requested controls and an improved editor experience," Sneath said.

Sneath also cited some inconsistencies with the new beta release.

"I do not recommend installing this beta release on your main development machine," he said. "Due to some complex build timing issues, this release is incompatible with Silverlight 2 Beta 1; it will, however, be compatible with Beta 2 when it ships in a few weeks' time. There's also a glitch we discovered in late testing that can cause [Microsoft Expression] Blend to crash."

However, that will be fixed by the time of the final release of SP1 later this summer, Sneath said.

Meanwhile, Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president in the Microsoft Developer Division, posted a detailed description of the Visual Studio 2008 and .Net 3.5 SP1 beta releases, explaining in great detail the enhancements and improvements in the offerings.

".Net 3.5 SP1 and VS2008 SP1 provide a bunch of bug fixes, performance improvements and additional feature enhancements that make building all types of .Net applications better," Guthrie said. "It will be a fully compatible service pack release. We plan to ship the final release of both .NET 3.5 SP1 and VS2008 SP1 this summer as free updates."

The Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5 Service Pack 1 Beta Downloads are available here.