Visual Studio 11 Is Microsoft's ALM Brand

When Microsoft talks about application lifecycle management (ALM), it's always in the context of its Visual Studio IDE, says Brian Randell, senior consultant with MCW Technologies.

"Visual Studio is its ALM brand," Randell says. "But there are two core pieces: the Visual Studio development environment, in which we tend to cut code, and Team Foundation Server (TFS). These tools also rely on supporting technologies, such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint nd the System Center family, and Microsoft is continually adding new tools to enhance this technology suite."

TFS is available as a stand-alone collaboration tool that comes with source control, data collection, reporting and project tracking features. It's also available as the server-side backend for Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System (VSTS).

The new version of Visual Studio/TFS works well for agile teams, Randell says, but also for waterfall projects. "You can be a team that's very agile, yet work in a large enterprise. You can push up user story requirements that the PMO can see, but they don't have to care how you're doing your unit testing or how you're doing your feedback integration. It's really flexible: It'll work for you if you're a very hard-core 'agilista' all the way to very structured, formal development."

Randell is also enamored of a stand-alone Microsoft plugin called Visual Studio Team Explorer Everywhere 2010, which is designed to help .NET and Java development teams collaborate across platforms by allowing them to access Visual Studio Team Foundation Server 2010 from within Eclipse-based IDEs from "the operating system of your choice." The plugin is now a free download. (A Team Foundation Server CAL may be required.)

"This is a big win," Randell says. "[Microsoft] keep[s] pushing these things down from a high-level SKUs, making them more affordable and even free, so you get more value of what you do spend money on from Microsoft."

A potentially important new component of this system, Randell says, is Microsoft's new cloud-based build service for TFS 11. The new service lets developersuse a pool of build machines managed on its Windows Azure cloud computing platform. The service maintains a pool of Azure VM roles that can expand and shrink as needed. The TFS/Azure combination forms the Team Foundation Service, which "provides a great experience for distributed teams," he says.

"Yes, the service is missing some things -- virtual test management, for example, is something you can only do on-premise, and data warehouse reporting does not exist in this service today -- but over time, the service will grow to have parity where it makes sense," he says.

The Visual Studio 11 beta was released on February 9, and although it has a go-live license, which means Microsoft says that it's okay to use it for developing and deploying production applications, it's not perfect, Randell warns. If you decide to move to TFS 11, for example, you will have to face a multi-upgrade path to get to RTM (the release to manufacturing, or gold version). Yet, based on his personal tests, the upgrade process is pretty painless, he said.

Visual Studio 11 comes in a free Express edition that comes with Windows 8 that allows developers to build Win 8 apps. It also comes in Pro, Premium and Ultimate editions, as well as a Test Professional edition. All of these editions are currently available for evaluation download from the Visual Studio 11 Beta site. Microsoft also has a preconfigured virtual machine available for download, Randell pointed out.

"If you think this looks interesting," Randell adds, "get onboard. Sign up, get yourself an access code, play with it, explore it, try a small side project and see what it feels like. In the long run, it should save you money and pain and suffering."

Randell's company, MCW Technologies, is a Microsoft-focused consultancy based in Upland, Calif. Randell has been writing code and teaching Microsoft tech to developers for more than 20 years.

Randell will be among the presenters at the upcoming Visual Studio Live! New York conference, being held May 14 through 17, 2012. He's scheduled to lead a pre-conference workshop entitled, "Full Application Lifecycle with TFS and CSLA.NET," with Rockford Lhotka of Magenic, and is also holding sessions about UX for Metro apps and faster debugging with Visual Studio.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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