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Microsoft on Monday gave developers early access to the next version of its Windows development tools and framework, for the first time tying in both Windows Vista and the upcoming Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008.

The company has released to manufacturing code for Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.5, while also making code available to subscribers on its Developer Network (MSDN).

Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.5 are the first versions of Microsoft's tools and framework to wrap up a string of infrastructural elements that have been percolating through Redmond and slowly rolling out separately through a series of updates and new products.

The changes simplify data access and programming across Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 and SQL Sever 2008 - the latter two due next February. Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.5 are also timed for widespread availability next February.

Arguably the biggest change is the addition of Microsoft's Language Integrated Query (LINQ) architecture, created by Microsoft's Erik Meiker, that simplifies programming with SQL object, XML and relational data models in C# and Visual Basic.NET. Syntax added to C# and Visual Basic translate and compile queries to a set of 25 standard query operators, reducing the need to pick a single data model or know all three.

ASP.NET AJAX will come as standard for web development while server-side developers get Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) and Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) templates, with WCF supporting HTTP programming without need for SOAP but adding support for JSON. Expanded web services support in WCF now includes WS-AutomaticTransaction 1.1 and WS-Reliable Messaging 1.1 with other protocols.

For the Windows Vista and Office 2007 family, there are updates to the base class library, Windows Presentation Foundation and Windows Cardspace.

Previously separate tools for building Office applications that take advantage of the Office 2007 interface - regions, ribbon and panes - and extraction of data from Windows Servers are expected to feature in the professional edition of Visual Studio 2008.

Also, Visual Studio 2008 developers can build applications for versions 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 of the .NET Framework. ®

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