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Tech-Ed 2009 Preview: Headwinds

Despite tough times, developers, ISVs and Microsoft are keeping plenty busy.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. At least, that's the hope of most conference organizers in the software development sector. With IT and dev budgets slashed and most organizations hunkering down for a long downturn, it's no surprise that attendance at many industry events is off sharply from two or three years ago. Still, Microsoft is hoping to draw a crowd to Tech•Ed North America 2009 in Los Angeles this month.

Attendees certainly won't be staying away for lack of things to explore at the four-day conference, which combines IT and development tracks focused on Microsoft platforms, services and products. On the dev side, Tech•Ed arrives as a host of strategic Microsoft development technologies emerge. From Azure cloud computing to Silverlight 3 Web development to the anticipated beta of Visual Studio 2010,Tech•Ed offers a chance to catch up on the latest Microsoft-driven dev technologies.

No surprise, independent tool companies are busy as well, as they rush to fill gaps in Microsoft's expanded dev platforms and tap powerful, new features in the latest versions of .NET Framework, Silverlight, Visual Studio and ASP.NET.

Nowhere to Hide: Developers Test Strategies in a Terrible Market
A market report by research firm Gartner Inc. provided grim context just six weeks ahead of the May Tech•Ed confab. According to the March 31 report, worldwide spending on information technology was expected to fall 3.8 percent in 2009, to $3.2 trillion from $3.4 trillion. That decline, Gartner Research Vice President Richard Gordon notes, would be worse than the 2.1 percent reduction the industry weathered in 2001 during the dot-com bubble burst.

Ask Julian Bucknall how his company, .NET component maker Developer Express Inc. plans to get through the dour economy, and he is refreshingly candid.

"The economy being what it is, we've concentrated a lot on making our current customers happy," says Bucknall, the company's chief technology officer, who notes the importance of Developer Express' subscription model. "The only way we could encourage people to stick with us is to concentrate an awful lot on stability, reliability, discoverability -- making things easier and more stable to use, and then adding more functionality when we feel it's necessary."

We polled 369 developers for their thoughts on the .NET dev arena. Here's what they said:
What's your read on the development market for the second half of 2009?
Difficult 39%
Hopeful 29%
Neutral 23%
Terrible 4%
Terrific 4%
How is your organization approaching application development?
Working on existing projects and app maintenance only 32%
Moving forward to adopt new platforms and technologies 31%
Embracing Agile development methodologies 13%
Adopting more open source platforms and development tools 9%
Investigating cloud computing options 8%
Outsourcing 7%
Do you sense developer fatigue due to the pace of Microsoft technology introductions?
Yes, some fatigue 45%
No, little or no fatigue 26%
Yes, significant fatigue 24%
Don't know 5%
Is your organization specifically targeting development for the Windows 7 client OS?
No 60%
Yes, but it will take time 23%
Yes, but only limited development 14%
Yes, aggressively 3%

Like many rank-and-file dev shops, Bucknall says Developer Express has decided to pick its spots carefully, investing in select areas and emphasizing maintenance and refinement over lavish new initiatives or product launches. It's an approach being repeated all over the development sector.

"2009 is seriously quite a tough year, but I suspect for most people it will be just carrying on doing what they're doing," says Bola Rotibi, principal analyst at research firm Macehiter Ward-Dutton (MWD). "Outside of the core areas of keeping the business going, I think [new initiatives] are going to be few and far between."

Our survey of more than 350 .NET developers ahead of Tech•Ed bears out the cautious, go-slow approach. Asked about the biggest challenge facing their organizations, the largest percentage of respondents singled out the economy (32 percent). The second most-cited response was the challenge of managing all the developer technologies coming from Microsoft (23 percent). No other response drew more than 8 percent of the vote.

Many dev shops report falling back into maintenance mode. "I'm in pharmaceuticals," writes one senior analyst. "There are mergers, but with each merger come wholesale layoffs. My IT department is down to doing maintenance only, with a budget freeze in place."

An application solutions architect with a major insurance carrier says his group is trying to do more with less. "In the health-care insurance sector, we're still actively trying to handle new projects from the business, but with smaller dev staff, or at least fewer subject-matter experts."

While 32 percent of survey respondents report limiting work to maintenance, a surprising percentage (31 percent) say they continue to move forward with new platforms and technologies. "My opinion is that we should be focusing on migrating our large number of VB 6.0 and legacy ASP applications to help ramp some of the newer or more junior staff up with the latest Microsoft dev technologies," the solutions architect says.

A lot of developers are concerned about their ability to adopt and master all the new technologies Microsoft has been rolling out. Survey respondents indicate excitement about inbound tooling like Visual Studio, .NET Framework 4.0 and Windows 7, yet nearly seven in 10 respondents expressed "fatigue" with the pace of Microsoft technology rollouts over the past year. Nearly one-quarter of all respondents (24 percent) categorized the fatigue as "significant."

"The staff is concerned about the ability to learn and apply new technology in products that have a solid base of code," says the vice president of engineering for a telecommunications consulting firm. "Our market problem is we need to maintain compliance with .NET 2.0, .NET 3.5, multiple versions of SQL Server and multiple operating systems."

A Web application developer for a large construction and engineering firm says his shop is busy, but risks falling behind in the adoption of new technologies. "Our biggest challenge is not the economy, but rather maintaining our suite of Web applications (hundreds!) and at the same time keep up with the pace of technology," he says. "We essentially fall further and further behind every year. Our most heavily used apps are classic ASP, we have many .NET 1.1 apps, and a sprinkling of .NET 2.0 apps. Our databases have been recently upgraded to SQL Server 2005," he says.

One major .NET component maker isn't surprised at these struggles: "Microsoft has been really aggressive with new products and releases over the past one to two years, and some of [our] customers are finding it difficult to keep pace with all the new technologies and are sometimes confused [about] what's best to use for their projects."

Anthony Lombardo, lead evangelist for component maker Infragistics and a Microsoft MVP, says developers need to be smart to avoid getting overwhelmed. "Just keeping track of all of the different code names can be a chore. The main thing for developers to do is focus on the technologies that are important to them."

Slowdown Strategies
Corporate dev shops aren't the only ones struggling to keep pace. Developer Express' Bucknall says his company has made the decision to focus tightly on Silverlight for its next component launch, rather than aggressively update its suite of ASP.NET, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and new SharePoint controls. Case in point, Developer Express is updating its Express App Framework (XAF) for Silverlight.

"What XAF does is very quickly allow you to write business applications just by defining a data model," says Bucknall, noting that Developer Express has added grid, navigation, reporting and menu controls to its Silverlight suite. "XAF requires a certain number of controls before you can generate an application. So now we'll be able to write a business app for Silverlight and WPF. Those are the kind of things we're going to be concentrating on with regard to Silverlight. What you call the business control."

A lot of firms are also looking at how they license and sell software. Microsoft at the MIX09 conference in March demoed the Web Platform Installer, which bundles together a complete stack of Microsoft-based Web server products and technologies and provides an easy-to-use installer interface.

MWD's Rotibi calls the Microsoft utility "a neat little solution" that portends things to come. She points to the All-Access service provided by database tools vendor Embarcadero Technologies Inc. as an example of how vendors can provide

rich integration to reduce application cost and complexity. Subscribers are able to quickly download, license, provision and deploy Embarcadero products from an online console. The InstantOn feature enables access to Embarcadero tooling without installation.

"It's about reducing friction and getting the integration particularly strong. It's about the different tools," Rotibi says. "Being able to download and manage a whole series of things in an instant, that's the next stage."

At SAP AG, the company recently overhauled the licensing around Crystal Reports, providing a simple, flat-rate license for companies wanting to distribute Crystal Reports functionality in software they intend to sell or distribute. The new approach replaces a complicated scheme, whereby ISVs had to obtain a separate license for each distributed instance of an application containing Crystal Reports.

"We found that there are tens of thousands of ISVs out there who were building their own reporting because they felt it was too expensive to work with a company like us," says James Thomas, vice president of product management in the Volume Business Unit at SAP. He cites rapid application cycles, an increasing mix of software and services, and pressure from open source competition for the switch.

More and more companies are looking hard at licensing and compliance practices as a way to face down budget challenges and ease management overhead. Jon Gillespie-Brown, chief executive officer at licensing services firm Nalpeiron, says ISVs are scrambling to adopt subscription models as a way to ensure constant revenue and provide a lower barrier to entry for customers.

"I think that the end user is clearly pushing very hard for a more flexible way to buy," Gillespie-Brown says.

He adds that customers are attracted to the pay-as-you-go nature of Nalpeiron's hosted license management and tracking features. But what customers are looking for, says Gillespie-Brown, are more streamlined ways to track and secure licensed software, and to provide feature-complete trial software without having to support multiple code bases. "I think the perpetual [license] model is close to dead, personally."

Touring Tech-Ed
For all the sturm und drang of the current recession, it's clear from talking to ISVs and dev tool companies that .NET tools development remains an active endeavor. A lot of that has to do with Microsoft, of course. Companies like Developer Express, Infragistics and ComponentOne LLC are constantly rushing around behind major Microsoft platform releases, filling holes, bridging gaps and extending the reach of technologies like WPF, Silverlight, ASP.NET and SharePoint. We invited dev tool providers to give us a heads up on their plans for the May Tech•Ed event. Here's what we learned:

Infragistics NetAdvantage for Web Clients: Silverlight
Leading component maker Infragistics is rolling out a new spin on its NetAdvantage line of components, this one aimed at developers working with Silverlight 3, which is currently in beta. The NetAdvantage for Web Clients Silverlight toolset offers advanced controls designed to help developers craft line-of-business applications using Microsoft's RIA platform. Included in the package are data grid, Web tree, dialog window and other controls.

Altova MissionKit 2009
Few companies know XML the way Altova does. As if to make the point, Altova in February began bundling its broad suite of XML and data manipulation tools under the MissionKit banner, creating a one-stop shop for .NET developers. At Tech-Ed, Altova plans to demo MissionKit Tool Suite version 2009, which now supports Extensible Business Reporting Language (XBRL) data in XMLSpy, MapForce, and StyleVision. Version 2009 also lets developers work with Health Level 7 messages in the MapForce module.

Resco MobileForms Toolkit 2009
Resco MobileForms Toolkit 2009 bundles developer components and tools for applications developed for Microsoft .NET Compact Framework 3.5. The latest version adds tooling for touch interfaces, polished UI support and a trio of new app components including tab, tooltip and toolbar controls. MobileForms Toolkit 2009 supports Visual Studio 2008, 2005 and 2003.

The Imaging Source TX TextControl 15.0
The TX Text Control family of word processing components for Visual Studio 2005 and 2008 has been updated to add support for Adobe .PDF file format export, enabling Microsoft Word and compatible documents to be viewed and filled out in any browser. According to The Imaging Source, completed forms can be processed server-side and then printed or saved as PDF documents. Improved support for columns and structured numbered lists has been added. The Imaging Source is also distributing TX Text Control RapidSpell .NET, a spell check add-on for TX Text Control currently supporting English and German dictionaries, with additional languages and specialist dictionaries expected.

PureCM 2009-1
Source control management (SCM) toolmaker PureCM.com has a new version of its eponymous product, PureCM 2009-1, that aims to enable parallel development for cash-strapped organizations. With a newly streamlined interface and supporting agile methodologies, PureCM is available for Windows, Linux and Mac OS environments and integrates with the Visual Studio and Eclipse IDEs. The new version adds real-time tracking and guidance for managing merged changes. PureCM says its tooling can scale up to thousands of end users and manage terabytes of data -- enough to handle enterprise-scale development.

REALBasic 2009 Release 1 and REAL Studio
Sure, Silverlight 3 promises to let you take your mad Visual Basic.NET skills cross platform. But open source toolmaker REAL Software offers another option -- a cross-platform tool and version of the Basic programming language (called, you guessed it, REALbasic) that lets developers work on -- and create applications for -- Windows, Linux and Mac OS. REALbasic 2009 Release 1 adds ease-of-use tweaks like a Quickstart window to help attract new users, as well as a host of improvements designed to improve reliability. A more robust version of the tooling released in April, called REAL Studio, targets full-time developers and adds features like a Profiler for optimizing performance and scripted build automation.

Nevron .NET Vision Q3 2008
.NET component maker Nevron Software boasts a large collection of chart, diagram and UI controls for Windows Forms and ASP.NET (including AJAX) application development. All three component families are currently available as part of the company's all-in-one Nevron .NET Vision Q3 2008 component suite, which may see a major upgrade by the time this issue reaches your hands. The new package, reportedly due out at the end of April, is set to introduce new charts, gauge, diagram and mapping features. .NET Vision comes in two editions, Pro and Enterprise.

Telerik WebUI Studio
Telerik specializes in making UI controls for a wide range of Microsoft and .NET platforms, including ASP.NET AJAX, Silverlight, WinForms and WPF. The company recently announced that its RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX product fully supports the open source Mono runtime environment for enabling .NET applications on Linux and Mac OS platforms. Now Telerik adds WebUI Test Studio to its RadControls for ASP.NET AJAX. The automated testing module uses the ArtofTest Automation Design Canvas and WebAii Automation Framework (reviewed in the April issue of Visual Studio Magazine) to let developers create and run tests across Internet Explorer and Firefox browser platforms. Support for Safari and Google Chrome browsers is expected soon, and Telerik says Silverlight support will be added in the next release. WebUI Test Studio integrates with Visual Studio Professional and Visual Studio Team System.

Nalpeiron Licensing Service
Tough times demand tough choices when it comes to paying for software and services. Licensing solutions firm Nalpeiron aims to help ISVs streamline operations and better communicate with potential customers, with its updated, hosted suite of licensing services. New to Nalpeiron's offering is the TrialMaximizer feature for presenting e-mail campaigns and HTML advertisements to users using a firm's product under a trial license. The OverdraftTracker module promises to give ISVs a glimpse into hidden customer demand. ISVs can flexibly configure their software so that locked feature and capabilities can be activated by users, giving the ISV the ability to market against the extended demand.

VNI pyIMSL Studio
According to the old saw, there are lies, damned lies and statistics. Visual Numerics Inc. aims to help developers remove statistics from that troubling equation, by providing a numerical analysis application development environment that developers can use to leverage mathematics and statistics to prototype models in their production applications. Released in April, PyIMSL Studio "closes the prototype to production gap by providing modelers and implementation teams with a common set of tested and supported high-quality development tools, as well as the same underlying numerical algorithms," the company said in a statement. PyIMSL Studio helps developers turn prototypes into production applications quickly, while reducing risk, cost and complexity.

ComponentOne XapOptimizer
Microsoft has been banging the Silverlight drum for what seems like years now, and we can expect to hear plenty about the line-of-business savvy Silverlight 3 at Tech•Ed. ComponentOne is helping with the drum beating with a show promotion around the community technology preview release last month of ComponentOne XapOptimizer. A standalone utility that processes Silverlight application .XAP files, XapOptimizer generates optimized Silverlight application files that are 30 percent to 70 percent smaller in size than the original .XAP files. XapOptimizer integrates into the build process in Visual Studio and includes the ability to obfuscate Silverlight code.

PreEmptive Solutions Dotfuscator Micro Developer Edition
The Dotfuscator product has for years helped dev shops protect their distributed .NET code from prying eyes -- the community edition of Dotfuscator baked into Visual Studio is currently on more than 6 million desktops. More recently, PreEmptive has gotten into the business of helping developers inject analytics and lifecycle management tracking capabilities into their apps, allowing them to track the status and usage of .NET apps among customers. So what's on tap for Tech•Ed? A new version of Dotfuscator for mobile developers called Dotfuscator Micro Developer Edition (MDE), which will ship at the show. The new software will integrate with Visual Studio and provide injected tamper detection/defense, application expiry and feature-tracking support.

Noemax WCF-Extensions Version 4
Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) has emerged as a powerful and attractive target for developers seeking to establish rich interaction among applications, data and components. A component maker specializing in WCF controls, Noemax Technologies in April released WCF-Xtensions version 4, a major update that, in the words of the company, "expands the reach of WCF-Xtensions from .NET and .NET Compact Framework to Silverlight and Azure." WCF-Xtensions promise to speed communication and reduce bandwidth consumption of WCF services and clients. The components can bind quickly to code and can be applied to a variety of projects based on SOAP, REST Web services or Java.

JNBridge WPF Updates
As the company's name implies, JNBridge offers products that help bridge the gap between Java and .NET components and applications. JNBridge tools and adapters help speed and simplify cross-platform interoperability by providing adapters that present rich Java and .NET interfaces. At Tech•Ed, JNBridge will be showing new updates to the JNBridge Java & .NET interoperability tool that address WPF.

Atalasoft Vizit SP
In a struggling economy, one of the few bright spots in .NET development has been in the area of SharePoint application and Web Part development. Atalasoft VizitSP is a SharePoint image viewing module that lets organizations provide rich image viewing and browsing capabilities on any SharePoint deployment. For more robust development, the DotImage 7.0 .NET imaging toolkit offers imaging controls for ASP.NET and Windows Forms application development. DotImage is available in 32-bit and 64-bit versions and supports Visual Studio 2003 and later.

NCover 3.0
NCover 3.0 is a code coverage analysis toolset for .NET that targets automated build and test environments with improved performance, profiling and reporting capabilities. The tooling consists of an NCover Explorer UI for developers, a build system console for the build developer and a reporting module aimed at project managers. Often employed in Agile and test-driven development environments, code coverage analysis allows developers to monitor what percentage of their source code is actually touched by unit tests by measuring how many times a line of code is executed, among other metrics. NCover 3.0 includes 16 new reports and a "record trends" feature that can be used to automatically create HTML reports.

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