On Tuesday, Microsoft officially took the wraps off a new line of low-priced tools aimed at nonprofessional programmers.
The first betas of both the full Visual Studio tool suite and the so-called “Express” versions of Visual Basic, Visual C#, Visual C++, Visual J# and SQL Server (as well as a new product, Visual WebDev Express) will be available this week for download from the Microsoft Developer Network site. (Visual Studio 2005 Beta 1 will be available to MSDN testers only; the Express betas will be open to anyone.)
Visual Studio 2005 (code-named Whidbey), SQL Server 2005 (code-named Yukon) and the Express family of tools are due to ship by mid-2005.
The Express tools are an outgrowth of Microsofts ASP.Net Web Matrix hobbyist tool, which Microsoft introduced a couple of years ago.
Microsoft estimates the nonprofessional programmer pool to be about 18 million strong, or three times the size of the professional programming one. Via Web Matrix, Microsoft learned that this community was interested in tools for absolute beginners, said John Montgomery, director of marketing for Microsofts developer division. Microsoft also learned that these hobbyists and entry-level programmers wanted a product that looked and felt like Visual Studio, so that they could maintain a familiar environment if and when they “traded up.”
The Express tools fulfill that goal, Montgomery said. And with Microsoft expected to price each of the Express languages in the “tens of dollars” range, With Express, Microsoft thinks its found the right combination of price and functionality for people who are interested in dabbling in new languages and writing simple but useful programs over a weekend, he added. (To encourage these “weekend warriors” to write simple programs, Microsoft is including starter kits built in conjunction with three content providers: eBay, Amazon.com and PayPal.)
Besides attracting a new cadre of customers, the Express tools will help Microsoft fulfill another mission. Microsoft has designed the Express versions of VB and VC++ so that programmers canuse them to write Windows client applications only. (Individuals who want to write Web applications will be directed to use Visual Web Developer Express.)
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