VS .Net Makes Compelling Gains

Microsoft development tool suite does more and annoys less than any previous version.

The most powerful synergy in Microsoft Corp.s technology portfolio is between its powerful platform services and its reasonably priced, highly capable tools. Wooing developers with seductive ease of use, Microsofts tools then pave a path of least resistance toward the adoption of each new wave of Windows features.

Visual Studio .Net 2003, slated for release the same week as Microsoft Server 2003, walks hand-in-hand with that platform to help buyers discover its benefits for distributed service deployment.

eWEEK Labs was more impressed, though, with the ways the new tools expand the charter of enterprise development beyond the PC/server platform. The Visual Studio .Net 2003 upgrade, which we reviewed in its final pre-release state, revealed useful and convenient new handheld-device capabilities and polished the previous versions rough edges.

(Take a walk-through of Visual Studio .Net 2003 with eWEEK Labs.)

Developers need not fear an intimidating learning curve like the one they faced last year: The fairly short 15-month upgrade interval between Visual Studio .Net 2002 and 2003 is consistent with the evolutionary feel of the new release. Even Microsoft offers a modest measure of the step, rather than leap, that the company is taking with this version: Developers using any edition of the 2002 tools can upgrade to the corresponding edition of 2003 for only $29, as long as they do it before the end of September.

Visual Studio .Net 2003 is offered in three editions: Professional (which we tested), Enterprise Developer and Enterprise Architect. Owners of other Microsoft and competing development tools from BEA Systems Inc., Borland Software Corp., IBM, Metrowerks Inc., Oracle Corp., Webgain Inc. and others can upgrade for a discount.

Sale prices for the various editions are the same as they were last year: Professional Edition opens the bidding at $1,079 (upgrade $549), while Enterprise Developer raises the stakes to $1,799 (upgrade $1,079); Enterprise Architect heads the list at $2,499 (upgrade $1,799). Single-language Standard editions for Visual Basic, C#, C++ and Java-based J# remain at $109.

The entry-level Professional edition will be adequate for many independent developers needs. It covers the expanded Web services ground that Microsoft carved out last year, exposing any component as an XML Web service merely by including the WebMethod attribute. Developers who have never explored Web services territory will be astonished to discover that scripted demonstrations, for once, dont exaggerate the ease with which this can be done.

Support for new Web services standards, including WS-Attachments, WS-Routing, and WS-Security, is promised in this release. However, it will be a challenge for developers to use facilities like the service discovery mechanisms in .Net Server 2003 to create a viable marketplace (or at least a meeting place) for services outside individual enterprise boundaries. In this respect, technology is years ahead of practice, and the gap is not closing quickly.

The .Net 2003 tools further extend the scope of basic application development to include device-aware applications that adapt to form factors other than the standard full-screen desktop or notebook PC. After years of working with clumsy cross-platform libraries that never quite manage to span the gaps, were more than pleased to see this step-up in development capability.