Redmond Review

Visual Studio 2013 Steps Up Big Time

Visual Studio 2013 ramps up the expectations of what Microsoft can do when it works as a cohesive team, instead of competing business units.

On Nov. 13, developer-focused executives, product managers and marketing personnel from Microsoft descended on New York City to launch Visual Studio (VS) 2013. The release provides important innovations on its own, and marks a watershed moment for Microsoft in the post-Gates era. The Developer Division (Dev Div) has a new spring in its step, delivering real value, aligning itself with Microsoft's overall strategy, and elevating itself to a frequent release schedule that serves as a role model for the rest of the company. Let's discuss what the VS 2013 wave brings, both technologically and organizationally, and why it's so important.

The release of VS 2013 delivers significant new capabilities in four broad areas: the Visual Studio IDE itself (including Blend for Visual Studio 2013); Team Foundation Server; the cloud-based Visual Studio Online; and enhancements in the .NET Framework 4.5.1, especially within ASP.NET. Features like the ability to perform remote debugging on code running in Windows Azure; the delivery of sophisticated application analytics in the Application Insights component of Visual Studio Online; the new energy consumption tool for use in Windows Store app development; enhanced XAML editing for Windows Store, Windows Phone, WPF and, yes, Silverlight apps; and a brand new browser-based coding environment, code-named "Monaco," provide a good sampling of what Dev Div is bringing to the table.

Volume, Velocity and Variety
There's so much new stuff in the VS 2013 wave that for the next Live! 360 event, Rocky Lhotka and I (who together co-chair the conference) sketched out roughly 20 new sessions, beyond those which were proposed, and drafted speakers to take them on. All this new functionality in VS 2013 comes 14 months after the launch of VS 2012. In between the two releases, Redmond offered up three quarterly updates to VS 2012; it also brought out a fourth update concurrently with the VS 2013 launch. To put it in understated terms, Dev Div is moving quickly, and it's supporting Microsoft's devices and services strategy as it does so.

There are a few reasons for this productivity and agility, and they're key to understanding both Microsoft's challenges, and its potential success. First, with the launch of Windows 8 behind it, and with the change in leadership of the Windows team, Dev Div was able to emerge from the veil of secrecy that fell over its work in building VS 2012. Similarly, with a leadership change in the Developer and Platform Evangelism (DPE) group, Microsoft has made important overtures and gestures to .NET developers in the last year that eased what was very palpable tension in the community. The Windows Azure platform has matured significantly in the last year, with a great number of services graduating from preview status to general availability. This is a real shot in the arm for Azure, and it's also due to solid leadership.

The Dev Div and Windows Azure leadership was already strong and wise. But in 2013 the executives on those teams were given more latitude and were burdened by fewer political distractions. They and their teams rose to the occasion, and the air cover provided by the corporate DPE team worked to double those contributions. To be frank, it's hard to imagine things working out better.

Can other parts of Microsoft emulate Dev Div's success? Can the Office team iterate as quickly, and can it pivot towards other platforms the way Dev Div has with its newly-deepened Xamarin partnership? Can the Data Platform team deliver on both the on-premises and cloud fronts the way Dev Div has with Visual Studio and Visual Studio Online? Can the Dynamics team consolidate and rationalize its AX, NAV, GP and SL product lines the way the ASP.NET team has made its Web Forms, Web Pages, MVC and Web API frameworks work together in a single Visual Studio project type? Can the Xbox, Surface and soon-to-arrive Nokia device teams work together as closely, peacefully and productively as Dev Div and the Windows Azure group have?

Most of all, can Microsoft's executive upper echelon work as cohesively as the developer-focused Vice Presidents, Product Managers and Technical Fellows have done? While that's a tall order, the good news is that the Dev Div and Windows Azure teams have shown that it's possible, beneficial and necessary.

With the elimination of Microsoft's stack ranking employee review system and with the priorities set forth in Steve Ballmer's "One Microsoft" corporate re-org, there's no excuse for infighting in Redmond anymore, especially when it hinders progress and innovation. The Visual Studio 2013 launch provides actionable guidelines for transcending politics and achieving real success. Now we just have to see how well -- or even if -- these best practices are adopted across the rest of Microsoft.

About the Author

Andrew Brust is Research Director for Big Data and Analytics at Gigaom Research. Andrew is co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press); an advisor to NYTECH, the New York Technology Council; co-moderator of Big On Data - New York's Data Intelligence Meetup; serves as Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; and is conference co-chair of Visual Studio Live!

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