Preview: The Big Launch

Microsoft rolls out 2008 versions of Visual Studio, Windows Server and SQL Server.

Perhaps it's no coincidence that the most ambitious launch of a suite of enterprise products from Microsoft in nearly a decade is happening in Los Angeles, where some of the most storied Hollywood epics were born. The simultaneous launch of Visual Studio (VS) 2008, SQL Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008 offers drama, a thickening plot and, of course, a huge amount of money.

"It's one of the most significant releases for them in a long time," says Forrester Research Inc. analyst Merv Adrian. "It doesn't get as much attention as a new release of Office or Vista ... but in terms of Microsoft's presence in the enterprise, this is really, really important.

"Not getting this stuff right is not an acceptable outcome for Microsoft or its developer ecosystem," Adrian continues.

Any good drama needs a twist, and Microsoft provided one earlier this month when it quietly announced what many had already anticipated -- a key pillar of the Feb. 27 launch will be late.

SQL Server was set to ship later than Windows Server or Visual Studio, but the target date has now slipped by a full quarter, according to a Jan. 26 blog post by Francois Ajenstat, director of SQL Server product management. Ajenstat insists the delay won't detract from this month's launch event.

"I don't see that it'll detract from it, for the main reason that the way that we were looking at the launch from the get-go is it's a wave of Microsoft products that we're launching," Ajenstat tells RDN.

In fact, the two other parts of that wave are already here. Visual Studio shipped in November last year, and Windows Server was released to manufacturing on Feb. 4. We look at the new products to see how they'll impact development shops.

Visual Studio 2008
by Kathleen Richards

The teams in Microsoft's Developer Division (DevDiv) did things a little differently with Visual Studio 2008, which was released to MSDN subscribers in November. After Visual Studio 2005 was officially launched on Nov. 7, 2005 in San Francisco, the VS teams stopped working on shipping product.

The five-year product cycle had taken its toll on developers, testers, project managers and customers. Under the leadership of Corporate Vice President S. "Soma" Somasegar, DevDiv focused on improving its internal development and test processes, cleaning up backlogs of work and revisiting their infrastructure. This process, called Milestone Quality (MQ), paved the way for what Microsoft calls "Intentional Engineering." Under Somasegar's direction, the Orcas teams adopted a feature crew model, whereby a small team made up of developers and testers met specific quality gates before the complete feature, rather than complete code, got checked in and moved up the food chain.

All of the VS 2008 features were related to key Microsoft platforms, namely Office 2007, Windows Vista and Language Integrated Query (LINQ). Project managers used Team Foundation Server (TFS) to view the group's progress via divisional dashboards. The VS teams, distributed in five locations around the world, delivered Visual Studio 2008, with 623 new features, in 18 months.

Visual Designers and More
However DivDev got from there to here, Visual Studio 2008 is quite an accomplishment. It provides tooling for .NET 3.0 -- Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) and CardSpace -- which shipped with Windows Vista. It also supports .NET 3.5, which brings the landmark LINQ tooling designed to let developers query data sources from directly within .NET languages, namely C# 3.0 and VB 9.0. And for the first time, Visual Studio 2008 untethers the tooling from a specific framework. It offers multi-targeting so that developers can work on .NET 2.0, 3.0 and 3.5 apps within the same IDE.

For Web developers, VS 2008 and .NET 3.5 integrate with Microsoft's ASP.NET AJAX and add support for nested master pages, CSS, split-view editing, JavaScript debugging and IntelliSense.

More VS 2008 functionality is to come as Microsoft readies ASP.NET 3.5 Extensions, which will include a Model View Controller (MVC) framework option and tooling for Silverlight 2.0, the cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in that will offer a programming model based on a subset of the .NET CLR.

"Microsoft finally recognized that test-driven development is important, and put the basic Microsoft test features in Visual Studio Professional Edition," says Roger Jennings, principal of Oakleaf Systems. He adds that test-driven development is one of the reasons that Microsoft brought out the MVC framework.

Early and Often
With VS 2008, Microsoft continued its strategy of releasing technology early and often. The CTPs, started with Visual Studio 2005, provided glimpses of tooling and possible features long before they reached the beta stage. This meant some features were cut, others added, and some showed up in one CTP, didn't make it in the next, and then showed up again later in the product cycle. It also meant that significant tooling was made available as a VS 2005 plug-in -- ASP.NET AJAX and Visual Studio Tools for Office 2007 -- and then integrated into Visual Studio 2008 and .NET 3.5.

Still, it's a lot of stuff to take in all at once.

"There are so many new and upgraded features in VS 2008 that it's hard for enterprise developers to assimilate them all," notes Jennings. "I think it's going to result in more specialization in enterprise-level developers, because no one can be an expert now in all of these different technologies -- WPF, WCF, WF and the new LINQ-related features."

Jay Roxe, Microsoft's group product manager for Visual Studio, sees it differently: "The amount of technology that people need to learn has gone down dramatically because we now have these great designers," he says, adding that Microsoft is releasing a lot of educational content in terms of presentations, demos and white papers. "This will be something that's integrated into all of our launch efforts and will be available from all of our Web sites, and that's when we'll start tying together the various technologies."

The bottom line for developers is more choices and better tooling. Visual Studio 2008 is already available at retail and bits of new VS 2008 tooling continue to roll out on the Web. Microsoft is supporting third-party tools, even some open source toolkits, and the company introduced the VS 2008 Shell, which allows third-party vendors to extend the IDE.

Jay Roxe, Group Product Manager, Visual Studio, Microsoft "The amount of technology that people need to learn has gone down dramatically because we now have these great designers."
Jay Roxe, Group Product Manager, Visual Studio, Microsoft

At DevDiv, the MQ and Intentional Engineering process is underway for Visual Studio 10, code-named "Hawaii." Part of the MQ will involve moving all of the dev teams to TFS. As developers crack their knuckles and test-drive VS 2008, the November 2007 CTP of the next VSTS, dubbed "Rosario," is available for download.

Wait, There's More!
Click here to see the VS 2008 Plug-Ins.

SQL Server 2008
by Jeffrey Schwartz

When the Feb. 27 launch event takes place in Los Angeles, one of the leading actors in the drama won't be there to walk the red carpet. Microsoft announced in January that SQL Server 2008 will be delayed until the latter part of this year -- and experts say it could even slip into the first quarter of 2009.

Paul Nielsen, a Microsoft MVP and author of "The SQL Server 2005 Bible" (Wiley, 2006) and its forthcoming 2008 update, says SQL Server 2008 is more evolution than revolution.

"With SQL Server 2005, Microsoft added a lot of new technologies, like service broker and notification services and CLR and a whole bunch of new technologies they put into it," Nielsen says. "With SQL Server 2008 they've taken them and evolved them and matured them. I'm really happy with 2008; I think it's going to be one of the best releases so far."

Key features of the new release include the Declarative Management Framework (DMF), which will let developers build policy management into their applications; improvements to T-SQL; support for IntelliSense; support for binary large objects (BLOBs) including geospatial data; and the ability to build data warehouses.

SQL Server 2008 will appeal most to shops that run complex business logic in the database, and to developers who are ready to do some work to tap the new T-SQL extensions, the new merge syntax and the support for new data types, says Josh Jones, a consultant with Consortio Services LLC and author of the forthcoming book "Architecting Database Models for SQL Server" (Pearson Education, 2008).

"You're still going to have to go back and rewrite a lot of your code to take advantage of those new features," Jones says.

Migration Path
For the large number of organizations still committed to and running applications for SQL Server 2000 and SQL Server 7, the wait for these compelling new features could be getting too long.

"The upgrade path between 2005 and 2008 will be quite seamless compared to how it was between 2000 and 2005," Microsoft's Ajenstat says. "The amount of effort to get to 2008 or 2005 from 2000 will be the same, so we're basically saying to people that you don't have to wait for 2008 to start realizing the benefits of SQL Server."

Andrew Brust, chief of new technology at the consultancy twentysix New York, says many companies are feeling pressure to move now.

"What we're finding is a lot of people are seeing things like moving to a new version of SharePoint or wanting to do more with business intelligence, which is pushing them to get off of SQL Server 2000," Brust says.

For developers that want to take SQL Server 2008 for a test-drive, the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS) has opened a hosted site for just that purpose. PASS has enlisted Louisville, Ky.-based MaximumASP LLC and Dell Inc. to provide the resources to host the CTP. Originally offered to Microsoft MVPs in November when CTP 5 was released, PASS now provides the service free of charge to any potential customer who wants to test SQL Server 2008.

In late January, nearly 700 testers had signed on for the special CTP licenses, says Sarah Barela, MaximumASP's manager of database services. Potential testers can sign in at to test the current CTP. When new CTPs are released, the company says customer data will be migrated within 36 hours.

Latest Entry
The release of the next CTP is imminent, and at press time Ajenstat was looking at unleashing it in conjunction with the Feb. 27 launch event.

"In the CTP 5, we had probably 85 percent of the functionality delivered. In this one we're at 99 percent to 100 percent," he says.

A key new feature will be support for compression, he says. Also, testers should look to improvements in the DMF, IntelliSense, T-SQL and bug fixes. Nielsen says he's looking forward to seeing improvements to the management interface as well.

Despite the delayed release of SQL Server 2008, most testers are cutting Microsoft slack, saying they don't want a buggy release rushed out.

"I think the SQL team is trying really hard to avoid a bad reputation of putting out a product that isn't ready for prime time, particularly because of SQL Server's placement in the enterprise. You don't want to put your mission-critical data into an unstable platform," says Wayne Snyder, president of PASS, in an e-mail. "I'd rather see them keep it in the oven until it's done cooking, rather than try too hard to push the product to RTM for marketing reasons."

Windows Server 2008
by Michael Desmond

Microsoft's Windows Vista client OS suffered from troubled development and sluggish sales, but the same fate won't befall Windows Server 2008. Experts say this evolutionary upgrade to Windows Server 2003 significantly boosts security and manageability, while adding critical developer-centric capabilities like integrated virtualization and the improved Internet Information Server (IIS) 7 module.

FYI: The ABCs of PHP on IIS
While armed with a modular architecture and improved management features, the most important new feature of IIS7 for developers is its vastly improved support for PHP and dynamic languages.

"Not only was PHP not as reliable on Windows as other operating systems, it was about two to three times slower on Windows. That was mainly because of years of neglect," says Andi Gutmans, CEO of PHP maker Zend Technologies Ltd., which worked with Microsoft to optimize PHP for Windows, tuning PHP system calls and access to resources like the Windows Registry.

Gutmans' team also worked with Microsoft to add to IIS7 support for FastCGI, a technology that resolves issues related to PHP thread management in Windows.

Forrester Senior Analyst Jeffrey Hammond says Microsoft did well to stretch for FastCGI support in IIS7. "I think the FastCGI support is really going to attract a lot of interest from developers, especially those writing PHP. You couple it with the improved diagnostic tools and ease of setup, and IIS becomes a much more compelling platform for dynamic Web apps," Hammond writes in an e-mail interview. "I think that as IIS7 comes into its own we'll be talking about a WISP [Windows 2008, IIS7, SQL Server 2008, PHP 5.x] stack as a realistic alternative to the LAMP stack these developers use today," Hammond adds.

One of the most important and anxiously awaited features of the Server OS won't be ready until the second half of 2008. That's the integrated hypervisor virtualization layer, called Hyper-V, which allows Windows Server to host virtual machine environments to enable everything from server consolidation to swappable dev test images.

Eric Rezabek, product manager in the Windows Server Division at Microsoft, says the shipping version of Windows Server today includes a beta version of Hyper-V, installable as a standard server role, for customers to work with.

"The key to that hypervisor architecture is just having it sit right on the bare metal, having access to the resources, so the child machines run much quicker," he says.

But Directions on Microsoft analyst Michael Cherry urges patience to dev shops looking at Windows Server 2008 for its virtualization features. "I might wait for Hyper-V to ship before I consider migrating," he says, adding a caution. "Hyper-V is all-new code, version-one code. You've got to ask yourself, how do you feel about that?"

Chris VoceForrester analyst Chris Voce agrees, saying the story on Hyper-V is not yet complete. "There's been some feature stripping along the way," Voce says, singling out the loss of zero-downtime, or live-migration capability. "And there's still no commitment as to what features will be delivered."

Core Questions
Cherry says developers also face a unique challenge with the modular, roles-based architecture of the new OS, which by default is stripped down to the minimalist Server Core. Server Core lacks a user interface, the .NET Framework and the PowerShell scripting engine. And that, says Cherry, could cause trouble if an app makes a UI call in response to an exception, for example.

"You might want to be looking at and testing that your application runs and can be managed in its Server Core environment," Cherry says. But Cherry praises Windows Server 2008 for being stable beyond its years. "At this point in the Vista beta 1 was still reporting incredible bugs. At this point in the last two iterations of the Server beta, I just couldn't find any bugs to report."
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