Microsoft Pulls Developer Power Move With Visual Studio Online

With the release of Visual Studio Online, Microsoft shows it knows its developers as well as ever.

NEW YORK—Microsoft pulled off a bit of a software development coup in delivering Visual Studio Online, a set of development services and offerings running on Windows Azure that helps development teams create next-generation applications.

The company that was built on the premise that capturing developer mindshare is key to capturing markets proved once again that it knows developers like no other organization. Well, at least it knows its own developers better than most organizations know theirs. In short, Microsoft got its developer groove on at its Visual Studio 2013 launch event here Nov. 13 with the launch of an online version of Visual Studio aimed at cloud development.

"We think that the ease of acquisition and simplicity of development and testing environment provisioning support will be very attractive to many organizations who find their tooling support staffs stretched thin, and for teams that have to support their own environments, enabling them to focus on building great solutions rather than supporting their dev and test environments," said Kurt Bittner, principal analyst for Application Development & Delivery at Forrester Research.

Bittner said he sees Visual Studio Online as a logical extension and expansion of Microsoft's Team Foundation Service offering that has been available for quite some time. Microsoft will not continue to evolve Team Foundation Service as a separate offering.

S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, said some of the original effort to deliver Visual Studio Online started three years ago. "We started looking at what it takes to have developer collaboration in the cloud," he said.

And, of course, Microsoft could have long since tossed some piece or two of the developer life cycle out as piecemeal cloud services, but it waited. "We had to deliver an end-to-end service on the cloud," Somasegar said. "We felt like there was an opportunity for us, but we had to make sure we had enough of the services in place."

Indeed, Microsoft addressed some of the application lifecycle management (ALM) issues it needed with its Team Foundation Server and the online Team Foundation Service. Yet, the platform continued to evolve.

"Starting with an integrated developer environment for the desktop, Visual Studio expanded to also include team development capabilities on the server with Team Foundation Server," Somasegar said. "We are now taking the next step, extending the Visual Studio IDE with a collection of developer services, hosted in Azure, which offers the best integrated end-to-end development experience for modern applications. Today, we are announcing the availability of a broad range of developer services as part of Visual Studio Online. Several services that have been available in Team Foundation Service are now in public preview as part of Visual Studio Online."

With Visual Studio Online, Microsoft delivers a series of new services: hosted source control; work items and agile planning; a hosted build service; an elastic load test service; a service called Application Insights, which collects live telemetry data across development, test and production environments and captures availability, performance and usage data; and a preview of Visual Studio Online "Monaco," the code name for a new service that enables a lightweight coding environment in the browser.

"Monaco is a logical evolution of the IDE," Bittner said. "For small changes to an Azure application, as might be made by a developer who is fixing a bug or making a minor change and is away from their workstation, it makes a lot of sense. It's still too early to say whether Monaco will evolve to completely replace desktop IDEs for some people, but the general trend in applications supports the idea that cloud-based applications can fully replace desktop applications. It is encouraging to see Microsoft exploring this possibility."

Meanwhile, Microsoft moves its toolset a little further into some of the areas its partners have called home, like application performance monitoring (APM), DevOps and more ALM coverage. Yet, the ecosystem remains strong. Somasegar said Visual Studio 2013 launches with 123 products from 74 partners available already as Visual Studio 2013 extensions.

"Today begins a new era for Visual Studio, extending the desktop IDE with a collection of rich developer services in the cloud," Somasegar said in a blog post. "The combination of Visual Studio 2013, Visual Studio Online, MSDN and Windows Azure provides the most complete experience for modern application development for the cloud in era of devices and services."

That's a whole lot of developer goodness. Microsoft invited customers, partners, press and analysts to its official Visual Studio 2013 launch event. Most came expecting to hear more details of Visual Studio 2013, .NET 4.5.1 and Team Foundation Server 2013. Instead, Microsoft dropped the Visual Studio Online news on them. So despite all the cool new capabilities in Visual Studio Online, perhaps the most innovative things Microsoft did in delivering it was to keep it away from prying (and reporting) eyes until launch.