Visual Studio 2008: Collaboration is Key

With Visual Studio 2008, Microsoft's developer-friendly focus continues apace -- with some new wrinkles

For years, skeptics have dismissed Microsoft Corp.'s success as a triumph of marketing over substance.

Aside from its success on the marketing front, Microsoft's longevity and dominance can also be attributed to many factors. Chief among these, argues Wayne Kernochan, a senior IT advisor with consultancy Illuminata, is a fundamental emphasis on developer relations.

From its earliest days as just one of several PC DOS software developers, Microsoft has catered to -- has in many cases courted -- software developers. With its new Visual Studio 2008 release, Kernochan argues, Microsoft's developer-friendly focus continues with several new wrinkles.

"Combined with .NET Framework 3.5 … [Visual Studio] 2008 represents not so much a major shift in development tools or strategy as the culmination of a steady infusion of both business- and Web-oriented features into an old, familiar, very successful toolset," he argues.

"[Visual Studio] 2008 is also the ultimate in 'eating one's own dog food' or 'bootstrapping': Microsoft used Visual Studio 2005 and earlier versions of Visual Studio 2008 to create the final Visual Studio 2008," Kernochan continues. "So, as far as businesses are concerned, VS 2008 has had one heck of a beta; if you want to use it to create massive, complex applications, well, Microsoft has been there before you."

For one thing, Kernochan says, Visual Studio 2008 -- even more so than its team-based predecessor, Visual Studio Team System -- should help boost collaborative software development efforts.

Thanks to a variety of trends -- including an increasingly mobile workforce, outsourcing (and offshoring), and outside software quality assurance testing -- collaboration is key, he maintains.

"Instead of fostering a 'linear' process of development among a closed group, collaborative software development emphasizes a continuous process of collaboration, evaluation, and feedback, open to outside testing and peer review from the beginning," he explains. "While the benefits of offshore and around-the-world collaborative programming and of open source development have often been overplayed, they represent significant value-add in many cases for large-enterprise IT and ISVs of all sizes. Specifically, it has proved to be a good idea to enhance in-house development of new software with outside -- often open source -- testing, creation of add-ons, and accumulation of features for upgrades."

Collaboration is Key

Likewise for offshore collaboration, which, he argues, offers a range of opportunities for reducing the cost of upgrading well-documented existing applications.

"In both cases, a key to success is the use of a 'loose collaborative' tool/portal that coordinates developers in many locations without constricting their creativity," Kernochan argues, citing Microsoft's CodePlex, a collaborative development portal, first introduced in 2006, which lets users share source code. "[CodePlex] is important not only because it demonstrates Microsoft's new-found interest in tapping into open source software and markets, but also because it delivers to Microsoft's developer community a tool for more flexible and global collaborative programming,' he says.

In this respect, Visual Studio 2008 boast a number of collaborative enhancements, including automated build generation (e.g., when a developer checks code in) and a "Code Annotation" feature in which past changes to a section of code are displayed in a pop-up window. Elsewhere, Kernochan cites the availability of workflow-enabled services -- via Microsoft's .NET Framework -- which, although not a new idea, are "highly useful to Windows programmers seeking to create composite applications for SOAs."

The upshot, Kernochan says, is that Visual Studio 2008 brings Microsoft closer than ever to application development's 800-pound gorilla: the Rational/WebSphere stack from IBM Corp.

"VS 2008 adds some significant Web support … although it does not have the comprehensive composite-application-building and business-process-workflow features of, say, IBM's Rational-plus-WebSphere," he argues.

The Rational/WebSphere developer community, however, is a drop in the bucket compared with Microsoft's Visual Studio user base, which some estimates put at 6 million.

"Microsoft is not the only large computing vendor to support Web, collaborative, offshore, outsourced, and open source development from one platform, but its enormous, loyal developer community makes the potential impact of such a strategy unprecedented," Kernochan says.