While Microsoft Corp. will not actually deliver any new bits at the VSLive Conference in San Francisco next week, the company will share the status of some of its key tools and discuss release targets.
Sources said Microsoft plans to announce that Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2005; Beta 3 of SQL Server 2005; and the much-anticipated first CTP (Community Technology Preview) of Indigo, the new communications subsystem for the upcoming version of Windows, code-named Longhorn, all will be released on March 31.
Microsoft would not comment on release dates.
In fact, VSLive will feature an “Indigo Day,” and Eric Rudder, Microsofts senior vice president of servers and tools, will deliver a keynote at the conference about Indigo being Microsofts unified programming model for building service-oriented applications.
Microsoft added the CTP process in an attempt to become more “transparent” and more like the open-source community.
“One of the things I have personally learned from the open-source community or movement is transparency,” said S. “Soma” Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Developer Division.
“The reason Im excited about transparency is if Im a developer what I really want to know is the internals of the system,” Somasegar said. “I want to know when decisions are getting made, I want to know why the decisions are getting made and—assume Im a developer outside of Microsoft—that Microsoft can provide a way for me to interact on a regular basis with the product teams that are building the technology.”
Somasegar, who also will be keynoting at VSLive, told eWEEK: “Look at things like the Community Technology Preview. It looks like thats just an obvious thing to do, but I can tell you inside the team there was a lot of angst because historically we were in a mode where wed write some code, wed go through an extensive stabilization period, wed call it a beta, and then wed show it to customers.
“We were sort of not ready to air our dirty laundry so to speak, because every build that comes out wed have some problems, wed have some glitches, but thats how software gets developed—from a build to build perspective,” he said. “And we were trying to say, Hey, if I can share it with you as an engineer in the team, I want to share it with my close community of customers. Because I want them to see the progress we are making. And if they think we are making the wrong decisions, they can tell us right then and there. I dont want to wait another year before I can get feedback from the community.”
However, the company has released so many CTPs that some developers claim to be confused by the multiple releases and upset over their quality. CTPs are releases that occur before and between beta releases, which are more solid.
“This beta cycle is getting painful,” said a developer who asked not to be identified. “They came out so long ago with the Community Tech Previews Beta 1 that people are getting annoyed. It is such a double-edged sword for Microsoft. Everyone wants them to release a beta or CTP as soon as possible, then they get ticked off that they cant really do anything with the stuff they build. Then they want them [Microsoft] to hurry up and release the product so they can really use all of the cool new features. Of course, then they complain if Microsoft rushes it out and it has bugs or security issues.”
Indeed, Microsoft has acknowledged that the quality has not been consistent in all of its CTPs, but the company said it also has forewarned developers that the CTPs are not absolutely solid code, but builds the company hopes to get developer feedback on.
Rob Caron, a programmer and writer for Microsofts Visual Studio team, recently cited on his Weblog a series of features that did and did not work in the December Visual Studio 2005 CTP, which focused mainly on Visual Studio Team System.
“We consistently receive very positive feedback on the CTP program—developers tell us every day they love the frequent code drops so they can monitor progress were making on VS 2005,” Somasegar said. “Developers love this level of transparency, and are feeling more like an extension of the VS development team as a result of the CTP program.
“But its critical for testers to also understand that VS CTPs are intended to only provide a snapshot of progress at interim junctures of the product development cycle,” he said. “Developers should decide how much time they want to spend on each CTP release. We do love the feedback that we get from developers on our CTP drops, and that absolutely helps us build the right product.
“If there is something new or they care about a particular feature/bug that is fixed in a CTP release, by all means they should pick up the CTP and give it a test drive. On the other hand, depending on what a particular CTP includes, some developers may choose to just give a cursory look at that. We dont expect every developer to go deep every time we release a CTP.”
“I think the complaints [about CTPs] are frankly absurd,” said Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at Citigate Hudson in New York. “Theres no such thing as too many CTPs; people who feel that way have the option of ignoring them, quite frankly. CTPs by their very nature are interim builds that MS has decided to share with the developer public on an as-is basis. If people dont want to deal with the hassles that can imply, they should wait for the next full beta release before upgrading their environment. The ideal way to use a CTP is in its own Virtual Machine so you can get a sneak preview of what has changed/improved/been added.”
Steven Forte, chief technology officer at Corzen Inc., in New York, said, “I have heard the same complaints from developers in the community about CTPs. I have very little sympathy for them. I remember losing days and days rebuilding machines with betas that trashed my machines configuration. Now with Virtual Server and VMware, there really is no excuse. Are CTPs fully tested and perfect like an official beta? No. Is that a problem? No. Someone complaining about a CTP should remember just as recently as a few years ago when every beta was top secret and we had no access. So the question is do you want less than perfect access or no access? I vote for less than perfect access.”
“As far as the CTPs go, I dont think there has been all that much confusion, at least not more than in past beta rollouts,” said Mike Sax, CEO of Eugene, Ore.-based Sax Software Corp. and Sax.net.
Sax said when he first heard about the CTPs, “I thought it was a complete recipe for disaster because it sounded like they were going to introduce some very unstable code to the world. It turns out that theyve actually done quite a bit of testing before releasing these CTPs, and the bar seems to be fairly high [although still slightly lower than a regular beta version]. So I think theyve executed less ambitiously from their original plan of almost giving the community access to their daily build regardless of what shape theyre in, and thats probably a good thing.”
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