.Net Tools Get Serious

Developers like what they see from Microsoft's launch of Visual Studio .Net.

The launch of Visual Studio .Net gives definition to Microsoft Corp.s software-as-a-service initiative, which, until now, has been more talk than substance. Now the question is whether the tool suite will fill the needs of Web services developers.

The Redmond, Wash., company announced Visual Studio .Net at an event here last week, touting it as the best product available for developing and delivering Web services. Developers for the most part didnt disagree.

"I like the object-oriented approach for VB [Visual Basic]," said Todd Sax, director of technology for GTech Corp.s national call center in Boca Raton, Fla. "I have a team of Visual Basic developers, and weve been struggling with some OO for VB in general. Were really at a point of deciding to move to C to manage our OO approach. But with Visual Studio .Net and VB .Net, we can achieve what we need to achieve."

Sax is building a large-scale solution covering 2,000 users and enterprise applications for his companys call center and help desk systems. GTech builds and maintains lottery systems.

"The biggest issue that we had [going with .Net] was that the new paradigm was completely different," said John McDonald, chief architect at Allianz Life Insurance Co. of North America, in Minneapolis. "Visual Basic and the old Microsoft DNA paradigms dont really work anymore. They are very different, in spite of what Microsoft says about how easy it is to convert. They are very different in terms of skill set and in terms of strategic thinking. So, we still have a journey to take. But were making it fairly rapidly."

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates called Web services "the key to productivity that spans the entire economy" and Visual Studio .Net the first tool for XML Web services.

Gates, calling Visual Studio .Net the "most comprehensive development tool of all time," noted that CLR (Common Language Runtime) supports more than 20 languages, including Microsofts Visual Basic .Net, C#, J# and Visual C++. Others supported include Perl and Smalltalk.

Visual Studio .Net also supports the Web services tool kits for SQL Server 2000, BizTalk Server 2002, ASP .Net and .Net Framework.

Scott Borduin, chief technology officer at Autodesk Inc., in Surrey, England, said he likes the concept of CLR because he doesnt "have to fight the language war."

"The fact that you can write in any language is a definite plus," said Ashish Kumar, CTO at Seattle-based Avanade Inc. "There is a lot of capability to natively build enterprise apps."

Avanade offers a Visual Studio .Net add-on called Avanade Connected Architecture, which gives developers architectural guidance and sample code for building enterprise applications with the Microsoft technology.

Sandy Vilahu, an analyst with the California Integrated Waste Management Board, based in Sacramento, said her agency is expecting Visual Studio .Net to cut development time on Web applications.

"We think we can cut our development times in half," Vilahu said. "Its going to revolutionize our [Active Server Pages] apps." Thats based on preliminary results the agency has achieved with the technology, Vilahu said.

Tom Button, vice president of Microsofts developer and platform evangelism division, said he expects more than 2 million developers to adopt Visual Studio .Net as their primary tool set this year but added that the tools are basically the enabler to help them create applications.

"The tools are not the high-order business value for us," Button said. "We see it as a way to get our design time technology in front of developers. The platforms are where we make money."

So far, 350,000 developers have received the final versions of Visual Studio .Net and .Net Framework, and 250,000 have received .Net training.