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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Microsoft Corp launched the long-awaited Visual Studio.NET and .NET framework yesterday, pitching the IDE as its most important product to-date for developers and as specifically designed for an economy founded on web services,

Gavin Clarke writes

.

Redmond, Washington-based Microsoft told delegates at its VSLive! conference in San Francisco, California that Visual Studio.NET will increase the productivity of application developers by up to 50% and boost the robustness of applications.

Company chairman and chief executive Bill Gates called web services "the key to productivity that will expand the entire economy" and positioned Visual Studio.NET as a pillar of that economy. "Visual Studio.net is the first tool written from the ground up to write those applications," he said.

"[Visual Studio.NET] is one of the largest pieces of work we have ever done on tools in research and development. Product release cycles normally takes two years, this was three years," he said. .NET is consuming more than $5 billion in research and development, Gates said.

Criticism, though, was immediately leveled at the suite by two major competitors. San Jose, California-based BEA Systems Inc said the the XML functionality in Microsoft's integrated development environment (IDE) merely catches-up with rival Java products - Visual Studio.NET allows developers to generate native XML code.

BEA offered users of WebLogic Server the ability to generate Simple Object Access Protocol and Web Services Description Language (WSDL) in version 6.1, launched last year. BEA's principle technologist Michael Smith said: "The notion of the container and Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) has already solved that."

David Lazar, Microsoft group product manager, accepted the company had lost ground to J2EE on XML, but said Visual Studio.NET's support is richer. "We have worked really hard with this version of the product and that enabled J2EE to get ahead. [But] we have baked in XML web services as part of the core of our platform."

Palo Alto, California-based Sun Microsystems, meanwhile, said Visual Studio.NET re-enforced lock-in to the Windows platform despite the suite's support for more than 20 programming languages. Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist, said: "Visual Studio.NET only plugs into Windows APIs and binaries. Its like asking for water in 24 different languages but if you ask for beer, you are given water. Languages are irrelevant today."

He also dismissed benchmarks used by Bill Gates during his VSLive! keynote to highlight the performance of technologies contained in Visual Studio.NET. Gates quoted Doculab's Nile benchmarks for a combined ASP.NET, Windows 2000 Server and SQL Server offering on an eight-CPU server that served 4,004 pages per second.

Gates claimed this bested JSP on an un-named "generic" J2EE application server and database running on the Linux operating system that produced just 1,395 pages per second. Phipps dismissed the figures as hard to provide, adding performance is an old issue. "There are no performance issues with our customers," Phipps said.

Backing the Visual Studio.NET launch, though, were the usual line-up of customers who endorsed the suite's time-saving capabilities. Visual Studio.NET uses component-based development and integrates its 20-plus programming languages via the Common Language Runtime (CLR) which - theoretically - means that programmers can use existing skills to program web services for Windows.

Cosmetics specialist L'Oreal claimed it had cut application development time by 50% and is now rolling out a new web site in a different geography each month.

Investment giant Merrill Lynch used Visual Studio.NET to integrate legacy voice-based servers for its new 1-800-Merrill voice response service for customers to access different offerings. The company claimed a 20% reduction in development time.

Also joining Microsoft were 190 partners who unleashed a storm of announcements for Visual Studio.NET add-ins and products. These included ActiveState - with Visual Perl, Visual Python and Visual XSLT 1.2; ComponentSource Inc with an XML-based interface to its massive Enterprise Reuse Solution; CompuWare Corp - with a version of its DevPartner analysis tools for Visual Studio.NET; and Fujitsu Ltd - with NetCobol for Visual Studio.NET.

Away from the hype, though, Microsoft is likely to measure the long-term value of Visual Studio.NET by the way it drives uptake of its XML server and desktop products instead of pure revenue for the product itself. Company vice president for Microsoft's developer and platform evangelism group Tom Button said Microsoft expects just two million developers to adopt Visual Studio.NET as their primary tools during its first year of life.

The suite's importance will come as it stimulates the adoption of the next planned version of SQL Server, BizTalk Server and Office - what he called platform technologies. "It's the platform technologies that are the important thing behind this," he said.

"Tools are always a break even proposition. It's a way to get our design technologies into the hands of developers that makes them effective at writing for our platform technologies," Button said.

Gates, meanwhile, used the rest of his VSLive! keynote speech to stress the need for vendors to refine XML web services standards. He took a swipe at rival Sun by listing the vendors who recently joined the Web Services Interoperability Organization (WS-I). He joked about Sun's absence from the list.

"Look on there and you will see everybody, except one company up there. It's a forum, a lot of nice companies have decided to join the organization," he said to rising laughter. Separately, Sun said that its invitation to join WS-I came too late to be of practical use.

Gates said the industry must also work on increased reliability, security and privacy for web services. These services should feature increased redundancy, self-management and auto recovery, secure "data fortresses" and user-controlled data usage and storage, he said.

"We are talking about using web services to underpin how businesses is run. That means the industry has to step up to new issues like reliability and security and privacy... there will be a lot of hard work from Microsoft and the applications you develop will be a key part of the picture. There's a lot of work that has to be done to deliver on the promise," he said.

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