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Early Visual Studio 2008 to bolster Vista?

Solves several key developer problems

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It's been a long time coming - but the much-anticipated proper release of Microsoft's Visual Studio 2008 could make it to market before the end of the year. Officially the Visual Studio 2008 is slated to be part of a massive Microsoft product launch at the end of February 2008. But there has been talk that it will arrive earlier.

Last month Microsoft appointed Jason Zander to head up the Visual Studio team. He hinted recently that Visual Studio 2008 could be out sooner rather than later.

It would be politically expedient for Microsoft to bring the release date forward to boost the flagging fortunes of its Vista operating system. Visual Studio 2008 contains a heap of technology which will make Vista-based applications easier to build - along with a bunch of other goodies which bring the product right up to date. With the rise and rise of Linux, and Apple due to release the latest version of its Mac OS/X next week, Microsoft will be keen to keep developer's minds focused on Vista. An early release date for Visual Studio 2008 might just be the right incentive.

Visual Studio 2008 is generally reckoned to be a straightforward evolution from its predecessor (Visual Studio 2005), but its path to market has been unusual. Microsoft released the Beta 2 version in July and declared it to be 'feature complete'. It also issued a runtime licence so developers could build full production projects with the Beta 2 version without worrying about licensing issues. A few minor installation problems were reported with Beta 2 - but the reception in the developer community appears to have been largely positive.

There is no doubt that Visual Studio 2008 solves several key developer problems, including 'multi-targeting' for different version of .NET. Previous releases of Virtual Studio required a separate 'instance' for each version of .NET. With Visual Studio 2008 developers can work on projects for version of .NET from 2.0 through to 3.5.

Visual Studio 2008 also includes several new important 'integration' options. In addition to full integration of Visual Studio Tools for Office (VSTO) for both Office 2003 and 2007, it integrates with Ajax and provides improved JavaScript debugging. Coupled with the new Language Integrated Query (LINQ) feature, which enables extraction of data from sources such as SQL databases and XML, this opens up a much broader - and potentially more state-of-the-art - development landscape to Visual Studio 2008 users.

Integrated testing is another key area where Visual Studio 2008 promises to make life easier for developers. Test facilities are fully integrated into Visual Studio 2008 rather than as an add-on from Microsoft and others. The Beta 2 release offers Unit and Ordered testing features - although the final release version is expected to go much further and include load and manual testing.

In addition to the many technical improvements, Microsoft has thought carefully about how Visual Studio 2008 should be packaged. Extensions to the Visual Studio 2008 software developers' kit (SDK) enable the creation of custom integrated development environments (IDEs) based on the Visual Studio Shell.

Microsoft is up-front about the thinking behind this move - it wants to use Visual Studio 2008 as the core of a partner 'eco-system' - something it failed to do with earlier versions.

Catherine Crim, a product manager in Microsoft's developer division, is reported as saying: "We don't have a lot of users on the Premier Partner Edition, probably in the under 20 range. It's an interesting toolset, but it's limited and there was a fee associated with it. With specialized tools it gets more interesting. We want to enable more people to do more with the tools."

This last sentence could be a common mantra for the whole of Microsoft's strategy for Visual Studio 2008. It clearly wants to use the new release to help fight off a wide range of threats to its dominant position - and the sooner it gets the product on the shelves the better from its point of view. ®

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