Microsoft's Case

New tools GM explains Redmond's design and dev strategy.

John CaseJohn Case is an avid fly fisherman, but he may have to set aside the fly rods, lines and hooks now that he has stepped in as the general manager for developer and user experience (UX) platforms and tools at Microsoft. A nine-year veteran at Redmond, Case is busy overseeing the launch of a new generation of developer tools and platforms -- most notably Visual Studio (VS) 2008, which was released to manufacturing last month. In an interview with RDN, Case discussed the message Microsoft is looking to deliver to dev managers as the company embarks on the release of its new wares.

How do the new Expression design tools fit in with the hard-core dev tools? What are the synergies and commonalities?
There's a lot more synergy even than we had hoped. We learned more and more from customers that design -- and designers -- were becoming an increasingly important part of the development lifecycle. Apps that got built were being designed often outside of the development organization. Customers asked us repeatedly for a Microsoft-specific entry into that market that took advantage of our latest tools and platforms.

So, we created the Expression family and what we're finding is we're seeing some really, really interesting evidence of applications that got built with Expression and Visual Studio working together, and I think that over time, as those two product lines evolve, they'll share data better, they'll create better and better designer-developer workflow, and the opportunities there really are tremendous.

So who's using these tools and how are they working together to ultimately build the applications?
Ten years ago or more the developer would go in a room and start writing code, but what we see today, in almost every case, is that there are some people who are thinking about the user experience of that application almost at the very beginning. And so tools need to be created specifically to address that market. What we see in customer examples all over the world is that the design sides -- or user experience sides -- of application development teams are starting in Expression at the same time -- or maybe even before -- the development teams are starting inside Visual Studio. You've got a workflow that I think we'll highlight more and more over the next few years.

What are some of the key strategic bets that you're placing right now?
Silverlight is obviously one. I think the fact Microsoft is doing a framework like Silverlight and in turn combining all of the great things on the Web with some of the great things in .NET is a unique thing that Microsoft hasn't done for a long, long time. It's been an extremely positive strategy; [one] where we've gotten a ton of great feedback and we've built a lot of great momentum.

I'd put Visual Studio Team System [VSTS] right at the top of the list, exactly the opposite from the Silverlight business. What we're talking about is finding an advanced product and product set that's right for the right customers. That's a business we have to go sell, whereas Silverlight is a reach Web play.

Expression I put on the list also. Expression is us reaching out to the designers, [which] is very much outside our core historical constituency. But we think we're talking about the beginning of the conversation; we think Expression is vitally important to the long-term growth of our platform in broader application development.

Is it sort of ironic that you're looking at this broader constituency at a time when there are probably more choices than ever in the open source world?
I don't think it's ironic, but I would say they're connected. One of the reasons we're doing things like VSTS is to improve our franchise in Visual Studio. We believe Visual Studio is still the most commonly used dev tool in the world by a fairly large margin, but it by no means has the majority of the market. And as a result, we're always looking for ways to expand what the product means, and I think that we work with partners on the one hand, but at the same time we want to build out our product offering too.

One of the things we often hear from corporations we talk to is that a lot of them are still on the .NET 1.1 Framework. When Visual Studio 2008 comes out, how do you get them to move to the 3.0 Framework? Or are you advocating they move to 2.0 and take a more phased approach to migrating to the 3.0/[3.5] Framework?
I think you're right -- there are plenty of developers and customers still targeting the 1.1 Framework. I also think there are plenty of them targeting the 2.0 Framework. The data we have indicates 2.0 is possibly the most used of all the Frameworks, which makes sense given it was a bigger release and had a lot of new innovation in it.

I think 3.5 has a lot of great capabilities. I think the second-generation technologies like Windows Workflow Foundation, Windows Communication Foundation and Windows Presentation Foundation are a really interesting upgrade for customers who are on 1.1. They can take great advantage of those technologies in their service applications or visual applications.

I think LINQ is a huge upgrade possibility for people. Everything that's happening with LINQ and data awareness is the single biggest new innovation. It'll cause a lot of customers who build data applications to think deeply about .NET 3.5 -- that's a big one.

I should also point to AJAX, because it shipped out of band during the year, but it's going to get rolled into .NET 3.5, as we said many times. It's a big chance for customers who build Web applications to modernize their code, and I think those are all big opportunities for 3.5 upgrades.

You have a lot of things in the 3.5 Framework. Is there any one that stands out?
I think it's LINQ, very clearly. LINQ will be the biggest feature that causes people to upgrade and move to .NET 3.5.

Why do you say that?
I think LINQ is a very innovative way for customers to build enterprise-grade data applications. I think there's a lot of demand for that, and people who have been looking for additional ways to do things -- in addition to what we've always had, like ADO.NET, for example -- will bring together a lot of the capabilities and services that people want for the data platform. I know that's only one class of applications, but for people who are interested in data applications, I think LINQ is a very compelling feature for them.

Can you give some guidance on the status of the Entity Framework and the Entity Framework Designer module that was pushed back and out of Visual Studio 2008?
The short version is there are two entity models in VS2008 and SQL Server 2008. First is LINQ to SQL, which is the first framework that will ship inside VS2008, and it places a premium on rapid application development and ease of use. It's a productivity feature set for data-driven solutions.

The second thing is the ADO.NET Entity Framework, which includes LINQ to Entities. It will be something that releases with SQL Server 2008, and it's intended for the deepest enterprise-grade data-development scenarios. It's not that something got pushed out of Visual Studio: There are two separate ship vehicles, if that makes sense.

How about the decision to support the Moonlight project? What does that mean for the next Silverlight support moving forward?
Customers were asking for Silverlight to go to Linux and Novell gave us an opportunity to do that, and [Novell has] been a very good partner for us to work with on that. The reality is, our goal long-term is to give customers the ability to work with Silverlight on pretty much any Windows platform, pretty much any Mac platform and any other device and platform OS, based on whatever customer feedback and research we find. I think that's something we'll keep looking at going forward.

So are you committed to keeping Linux player updates on pace with the Windows and Macintosh?
As long as customers are asking for it, I think that we will.

In what sense has VSTS prompted Microsoft to go with the whole "Rosario" project? Where are you headed with that?
ALM for us, or what we call application lifecycle management, is a way of growing our surface areas with the development lifecycle and we are super focused on it. This version of Visual Studio that we're about to ship includes the second wave of VSTS products.

Rosario, which we recently revealed, is the third wave -- it's the next big release for VSTS. So we'll be at VSTS version 3, effectively. We haven't talked about the features directly because we're still going through a lot of investigation on what it is that they want us to prioritize, but the thing that I'm excited about is this is a growing, thriving business and we're able to do large releases with great frequency because we're getting so much great feedback on it and so much great uptake. It's a big focus in 2008, especially on things like the server and the test infrastructure. It'll be an even bigger set of improvements in Rosario.
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