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Radio Silence: Details Scarce on Visual Studio and Windows Updates

As Microsoft at Tech-Ed details ALM features of Visual Studio vNext, information about the core IDE remains hard to come by.

The development cycle around the next version of Windows -- sometimes referred to as Windows.Next or (outside of Microsoft) as Windows 8 -- has been defined by silence. As one vendor flatly told me at the Tech-Ed event: "Microsoft is saying zero about Windows.Next. Zero. Nothing."

Complicating matters, however, is the fact that the Visual Studio vNext development cycle is similarly shrouded in silence. The situation is in marked contrast to the Visual Studio 2010 release cycle, which saw Microsoft move aggressively to inform and include partners in the development process. The outreach efforts paid dividends. Dozens of Microsoft partners released shipping Visual Studio-compatible tools and products within 90 days of the April 12, 2010 launch of the Visual Studio update, under a program called Sim-ship.

More important, the rapid availability of compatible tools has helped drive uptake of the new IDE. At Tech-Ed this week, Microsoft announced that Visual Studio 2010 is the fastest-ever selling version of Visual Studio. Reader surveys of Visual Studio Magazine readers reinforce Microsoft's findings. Two-thirds of respondents to the annual VSM reader survey (November 2010) indicated they are already using Visual Studio 2010.

The approach this time around is markedly different. At Tech-Ed this week, Microsoft Corporate VP of Visual Studio Jason Zander unveiled key ALM capabilities of the next version of Visual Studio and Team Foundation Server (TFS), yet details of improvements to the core IDE remain elusive.

For Visual Studio software partners, the lack of early information and guidance complicates product development and impairs the ability to produce releases timely with the next iteration of the IDE. While some companies expressed concern about the lack of guidance, others noted that there is still plenty of time for Microsoft to pull its partners into the Visual Studio development cycle.

Sean McBreen, senior product manager in the TFS group at Microsoft, was unable to talk about Microsoft's plans for the core IDE, but intimated that good things lie ahead.

"I think when you see the full breadth of Visual Studio vNext, I think you'll be incredibly excited about the investments we've made at the platform level and the direct tooling space as well," he said, later adding. "We're very conscious that we have a very broad user base who upgrade the product regularly. It's not going to be revolutionary change, but evolutionary change."

Much Ado About TFS
For the time being, Microsoft is content to talk publicly about its efforts to expand the circle of dev-engaged participants in the Visual Studio ecosystem. Zander's keynote address detailed how the new System Center Connector, based on technology acquired in the purchase of application monitoring firm AVIcode, will let IT managers directly report issues to the development team. The approach mirrors Microsoft's earlier efforts to link dev and test in a rich feedback loop, enabling developers to access contextually relevant data to speed the identification and remediation of bugs and issues.

Also unveiled was the new Storyboard Assistant, a PowerPoint plug-in that enables developers and application stakeholders to collaborate more closely in the requirements phase and to provide contextual feedback stored within TFS' libraries. The plug-in includes a library of objects and shapes that allow developers and stakeholders to mock up application behavior.

McBreen said the Storyboard Assistant is a "canonical example" of Microsoft's strategy to meet the users where they are.

Microsoft is extending tools available to developers exploring code for bugs. The new semantic search functionality, for instance, allows devs to search for common structures, while Code Clone Detection flags redundant code blocks that can be refactored as a shared block of code.

The entire effort is tuned to take advantage of Agile practices and processes, which continue to gain traction throughout the industry. The new TFS Web Access Task Board acts as an interactive digital whiteboard, providing visual input and display of project status information stored in TFS. Changes committed using the drag and drop Task Board UI are committed into the TFS project.

The improvements to the ALM functionality of Visual Studio vNext is significant. And McBreen says developers can expect important changes to other areas of Visual Studio as well.

"In terms of having a real focus on improving that core development experience, I think you'll be literally surprised as we get a release out," McBreen said. "We're working hard on that."

About the Author

Michael Desmond is an editor and writer for 1105 Media's Enterprise Computing Group.

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