Visual Studio Takes the Next Step

By the beginning of September, Microsoft plans to release a new version of its Visual Studio development suite. Version 6.0 will include updated versions of Visual Basic, Visual C++, Visual J++, Visual InterDev and Visual FoxPro, as well as a number of new or newly integrated tools that are intended to bind Visual Studio into a fully-integrated enterprise development suite.

Microsoft designed Visual Studio 6.0 to enable component-based development, enterprise data access and team development, and to support the development life cycle. Visual Studio 6.0 is available in "Professional" and "Enterprise" editions, but many of the features that help Visual Studio 6.0 better meet large-shop development requirements are available only in the enterprise edition. Most of these features either have been upgraded or are integrated in Visual Studio for the first time.

One of these features, Visual Studio Analyzer, is completely new. Analyzer is designed to help developers understand existing distributed applications by diagramming the application's components and their interactions. The diagrams display relationships between components dynamically as the application runs. Analyzer also generates Gantt-style reports that list and organize events, including when they occurred and how long they took. This data can be combined with information from the performance monitor to provide information about how much memory or processor time each event used.

The suite also includes several updated features, such as Visual Modeler 2.0, which can be used as an electronic whiteboard in the initial stages of application development, and can also provide documentation to help other developers understand the structure of an application. Developers can use Visual Modeler to create visual representations of components and their methods, and to connect those components into a software map. The tool, which was jointly developed with Rational Software Corp. (Cupertino, Calif.,, supports the Unified Modeling Language, a notation for software design.

Microsoft has also included a few existing products in the suite for the first time, including the Visual SourceSafe 6.0 version control system and the Microsoft Repository 2.0, which allows component information to be shared by multiple developers and tools. Developers can access components in the Repository through Visual Modeler, Visual InterDev, Visual J++, Visual C++, Visual Basic, and Visual Component Manager 2.0, a component catalog system that developers can use to publish and locate components.

In addition to adding support for ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) in all of the Visual Studio tools, Microsoft has also updated the Visual Database Tools included with the enterprise edition. This toolset includes a query designer for designing SQL queries, a database designer for creating and modifying Microsoft SQL Server and Oracle tables and database schemas, a stored procedures editor, a tool for debugging stored procedures, and a database projects management tool. The Enterprise Edition of Visual Studio also includes a development and test license for the BackOffice suite.

These features all serve to support Microsoft's five development environments. Microsoft has been announcing or releasing preview versions of these environments in preparation for the formal launch of Visual Studio 6.0 at Developer Days on September 2. Preview versions of Visual InterDev 6.0 and Visual J++ 6.0 were released in March. Visual FoxPro 6.0 was announced in May, but will not be available until Visual Studio is released. Visual Basic and Visual C++ are being announced this month (see related stories in this issue); they will both be released in conjunction with Visual Studio.

While Visual Studio 6 takes the next step on the path that began with Visual Studio 97, some industry analysts don't think Microsoft went far enough to turn Visual Studio into a true enterprise development suite. "To really meet enterprise needs, [Microsoft has] a ways to go, but it's clearly better than what they were providing," says David Kelly, vice president of the Hurwitz Group's application strategies service.

Visual Studio provides better database connectivity and integration, and more utilities and tools, but it still lacks a framework for creating multitier applications, according to Kelly. Kelly also says the suite's management, integration and documentation features are still too developer-focused, compared with high-end suites such as Uniface from Compuware Corp. (Farmington Hills, Mich., or the Forte Application Environment from Forte Software Inc. (Oakland, Calif.,