Competitive Overview in the BI Space

I attended an informative overview yesterday of the competitive outlook in the business intelligence market, given by Visual Studio Magazine columnist Andrew Brust. With Microsoft having refreshed and reordered its BI stack around the trifecta of SQL Server 2008 R2, SharePoint 2010 and Office/Excel 2010, Brust's presentation offered valuable insight into how Redmond's BI pitch lines up against competitors like IBM, Oracle, SAP and numerous pure play and open source BI providers.

Brust says BI pros hoping to move their organizations to Microsoft solutions face an uphill climb, ironically because many of the incumbent solutions are so expensive. Companies, Brust noted, are not anxious to retire BI stacks they spent fantastic sums of money acquiring in the first place. Microsoft's ace in the hole, however, is it's robust interop capability, which allows users to employ Redmond solutions on top of and alongside many existing BI and data infrastructures.

There was little question that Brust feels Microsoft has done an outstanding job assembling a first-class BI solution stack, praising the power, integration and performance of Microsoft's solutions. He noted that Microsoft has a very strong story to tell, with a logical collection of well integrated solutions and a robust community of third-party providers that address the BI waterfront. By contrast, competitors like IBM and SAP are still working to digest major BI acquisitions. Still, he cautioned attendees against dismissing competing solution stacks, noting that these companies are moving quickly to integrate some very impressive capabilities.

You can find a listing of the companies Brust profiled here.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/09/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Microsoft's BI Challenge: Reach the Other 80 Percent

Ted Kummert, senior vice president of the Business Platform Division at Microsoft keynoted the second day of the Microsoft Tech Ed North America 2010 Conference in New Orleans today. Kummert's keynote no doubt was also designed to appeal to attendees of the Microsoft BI Conference 2010, which is co-located with the Tech Ed event.

Kummert didn't come to unveil any exciting new technologies or strategies. In fact, he opened his address by saying: "We are not committing to a future roadmap. We are not talking about specific features."

Instead, he provided a broad overview of Microsoft's value proposition in the BI space, and showed how maturing tools -- specifically Office 2010, SharePoint 2010 and SQL Server 2008 R2 -- are enabling increasingly rich opportunities for effective data visualization, manipulation and analysis. Kummert showed off the rich integration among the applications, showing how data surfaced in a browser via SharePoint could be directly manipulated in Excel.

But his core message boiled down to this: The best kind of BI is the BI that people are actually able to use and manage on their own. Kummert cited analyst figures that found that only 20 percent of potential BI consumers actually are in a position to use BI today. Kummert emphasized familiar application interfaces, intuitive interaction and viable self-service and management as the keys to bringing BI to the other 80 percent.

"We are very, very committed to continue to move forward the technologies and tools we are giving to you, the BI professionals," Kummert told the audience. "But we see a tremendous opportunity to enable the 80 percent. You'll see more impact from your solutions. People will be able to build on them on their own. You'll have [fewer] interruptions. You'll be able to spend your time with strategic applications in your building."

What was your impression of what Microsoft has put in front of the industry? Has Microsoft done enough to really reach the other 80 percent, or does the BI model enabled by SharePoint, Excel, SQL Server and PowerPivot remain too complex and difficult to manage to fulfill Kummert's vision?

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/08/2010 at 1:15 PM1 comments

Freedom of (Microsoft) Expression

Dave Mendlen really, really thinks more developers should be using Microsoft's Expression Blend 4 Web and application design application to create more visually compelling and effective application interfaces. The senior director of Developer Marketing at Microsoft called Expression Blend a "great secret weapon that most developers don't know about," noting that there are "a lot of applications out there that are the battleship gray, ugly, default Visual Studio applications."

You can read about the Expression Studio 4 launch here.

The problem for developers, said Mendlen, is that good enough is no longer good enough in an era of rich Web applications and sophisticated UIs. He argued that even corporate users, once accustomed to the ocular abuse of green screen apps, are having their tastes informed by Web experiences like those provided by Facebook.

"The benchmark for corporate applications is so much higher than in the past," Mendlen said. "The Visual Studio experience is frankly not good enough. You've got to have this great companion tool, Expression, to take those applications and make them gorgeous."

Whether or not you buy into Mendlen's Expression pitch, one thing is becoming clear: The rather massive and prolonged 2010 developer release wave is finally drawing to a close. Since January, we've seen an unprecedented refresh of developer tooling, starting with the launch of Windows Azure in January, through new releases of Visual Studio, .NET Framework, Silverlight, Office, SharePoint and SQL Server 2008 R2 in April and May, and concluding now with the release of Expression Studio 4 in June.

Mendlen said more announcements are coming, but he admitted that developers can look forward to settling down and mastering the new tools Microsoft has delivered over the past six months.

"For the 2010 wave, from a developer perspective, I think this is getting close to the end of our arsenal," he said.

"I really think this is a great secret weapon that most developers don't know about. A lot of people perceive expression for guys working in an agency. I think this particular specifically really addresses if you are a Visual Studio developer, you must you have to, and it's part of your subscription if you have MSDN, you've got to go play with this stuff."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/07/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Get Ready for Expression Studio 4

If you are like me, you may be planning to spend most of next week in New Orleans, where Microsoft is holding its Tech Ed North America 2010 conference and co-located Business Intelligence Conference 2010. But you may want to pay attention to what's going on in New York, where Microsoft on Monday June 7 is kicking off the official launch of Microsoft Expression Studio 4.

Expression Studio is Microsoft's XAML-based, application and Web design suite. The suite consists of four modules:

  • Expression Web: Web site designer and HTML editor
  • Expression Blend: Visual UI builder for XAML-based WPF and Silverlight apps. This includes the SketchFlow app prototyping module
  • Expression Design: Raster and vector graphics editor
  • Expression Encoder: Digital video encoder

For Visual Studio developers, Expression Blend could be a compelling concept. It aims to bridge the chasm between developers slinging code in Visual Studio and designers working with static images of proposed application user interfaces in Adobe Illustrator. By offering an interactive, visual front-end to working XAML code, Expression Blend enables rich prototyping and more effective UI design and iteration.

We'll be reporting more details on Monday about Expression Studio 4. In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you. Has your dev shop looked at Expression Studio (and in particular, Expression Blend)? What are your impressions of the tool and what are you hoping to see with the Expression Studio 4 launch next week?

Posted by Michael Desmond on 06/04/2010 at 1:15 PM1 comments

Silverlight 4 Tooling for VS2010 Arrives

Microsoft today announced that it had released the final version of its Silverlight 4 Tools for Visual Studio 2010. Silverlight 4 offers extensive new features, including support for out-of-browser execution, local file system access and improved performance over Silverlight 3. The shipping version of Silverlight 4 was released on May 13, at the Visual Studio 2010 launch event in Las Vegas.

Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 included a beta version of the Silverlight 4 tooling, but the pre-release tooling was removed from the release candidate and shipping versions of the IDE. The delivery of Silverlight 4 Tooling for Visual Studio 2010 completes the platform development support story for Visual Studio 2010, which also saw significant updates to tooling for platforms like Windows Azure and SharePoint.

Silverlight 4 Tools for Visual Studio 2010 can be downloaded at

Will you be quick to download the released Silverlight 4 tooling? Email me at [email protected] and let me know your take.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/17/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

SharePoint 2010 Ups the Developer Ante

If you've been following the pre-release trajectory of Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010, you probably aren't surprised to hear that the latest version of Microsoft's evolving knowledge and collaboration platform is gaining a lot of dev-centric capabilities. Throughout its decade-long (more or less) run, SharePoint has consistently outgrown its mission. What started as a content management and portal platform grew rapidly into a knowledge sharing and collaboration center, and from there morphed into a platform for application development.

With Visual Studio 2010 (released last month) and SharePoint 2010 (due later this month), Microsoft is delivering a one-two punch that should open the floodgates for SharePoint-based application development. The work toward this day started back in 2003, says Microsoft director of SharePoint Products and Technologies, Arpan Shah.

"In the 2007 wave, actually starting in 2003, we started cementing SharePoint as a platform by building on .NET," Shah told me during a recent interview, adding, "In 2010, the developer was a core, core segment that we looked at."

A lot of the dev goodness comes not from SharePoint, but from the SharePoint-enabling features now cooked into Visual Studio 2010. Shah says the SharePoint and Visual Studio teams worked closely to align the two products and finally close the gap for developers targeting SharePoint. From a host of SharePoint-specific project templates to one-click F5 debug/deploy to advanced test and lifecycle management capabilities, Visual Studio 2010 seems to deliver on that mission in spades.

We'll be exploring SharePoint 2010 and Office 2010 development in our June issue. If you are looking to develop for SharePoint or Office 2010, we'd love to hear from you. Tell us what you think of the new platforms. You may find yourself featured in the pages of our June issue. You can email me at [email protected], or simply leave your comments below


Posted by Michael Desmond on 05/04/2010 at 1:15 PM3 comments

VS Partner Play: PreEmptive's Runtime Intelligence

Having worked in IT publishing for nearly 20 years now, I've long subscribed to the remora-and-shark metaphor when it comes to describing the Microsoft ecosystem. Often that's been cast as a bad thing, especially when you look at the sad histories of bygone companies like DoubleSpace.

But the relationship can and does work for a lot of firms, with perhaps no better example than PreEmptive Solutions. PreEmptive got its start as a player on the Visual Studio platform back in 2003, when the company solved a real problem with applications on the new .NET Framework -- that managed applications could be easily reverse engineered to reveal underlying IP.

PreEmptive's Dotfuscator helped plug that hole, and a free version of the product has been built into Visual Studio ever since. Like any viable Microsoft add-on provider, PreEmptive couldn't afford to sit still, and in 2006 released Runtime Intelligence, a Visual Studio add-on that enables application developers to receive telemetry about how their applications are being used in the field.

Sebastian Holst, chief marketing officer for PreEmptive, says his product provides "business intelligence for developers," enabling them to make better decisions about how to improve software, by allowing them to see how their customers use software.

PreEmptive is at the Visual Studio 2010 launch event showing off the latest version of Runtime Intelligence, which is integrated into all flavors of Visual Studio 2010. The new version of Runtime Intelligence includes monitoring of Silverlight 4 applications, and also enables developers to configure analytics from within Microsoft Expression Blend 4 beta, via the Silverlight Analytics Framework.

PreEmptive's story is being repeated over and over at the launch event, where over 50 vendors are showing (and shipping) Visual Studio 2010-compatible applications.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/13/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Little New at Visual Studio 2010 Launch

There wasn't much new to talk about at the Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4 launch keynote at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas this morning, and Microsoft President of the Server and Tools Business, Bob Muglia, was first to admit it.

"Today is a celebration. We get to talk about all the great things that are here now with Visual Studio 2010 and .NET 4," Muglia said early in his comments to the audience. "There are not a lot of surprises in terms of what Visual Studio 2010 does. We've had it in test, our CTP test program, for quite some time."

The one new bit of news was warmly welcomed by the audience. Microsoft announced the release of Visual Studio Team Explorer Everywhere 2010, the cross-platform collaboration client based on the TeamPrise acquisition made by Microsoft last year. The new tool allows teams working with dev tools other than Visual Studio to link into the resources provided by Team Foundation Server (TFS).

"This is part of what we are delivering with the family of products of Visual Studio 2010. It is fully connected to the Visual Studio 2010 development environment and the Team Foundation Server environment," Muglia explained.

VS Team Explorer Everywhere works on Windows, Mac, Linux and Unix, Muglia said.

To my mind, Muglia and crew left the best for last in the keynote, leaving discussion of Visual Studio 2010's extensive ALM and team-minded features for the end of the keynote session. Ultimately, though, almost all this stuff is well covered ground. Today's keynote, more than anything, was an invitation to developers to explore the new tooling.

Said Muglia: "It is indeed a day and a week to celebrate, and it opens up a new opportunity for all the new solutions."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/12/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

JetBrains ReSharper 5 Poised to Impress

Speaking with developers and software vendors following the Visual Studio 2010 launch keynote this morning and it's clear the community has been busy keeping pace with Microsoft. Case in point is JetBrains. The company is releasing ReSharper 5, a significantly updated and improved version of its refactoring and productivity plug-in for Visual Studio.

JetBrains worked closely with Microsoft throughout the Visual Studio 2010 development cycle to ensure ReSharper would be ready to plug into the updated IDE at its launch. For instance, JetBrains engineers faced a real challenge tying into the redesigned, WPF-based user interface of Visual Studio 2010. The company also spent a great deal of effort fully optimizing ReSharper to preserve responsiveness.

We reviewed ReSharper 4.5 back in September 2009, but version 5 of the tool may force us to give JetBrains' marquee tool another look.

The JetBrains rep I spoke with also made a point to call out the heavy interest he has seen among customers in ASP.NET MVC. ReSharper 5 adds extensive MVC support, and it sounds like MVC developers may want to give ReSharper a look for its abilities in this area.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/12/2010 at 1:15 PM2 comments

ALM on Microsoft's Mind

When Visual Studio 2010 officially launches next week, it will do more than advance the state of the art in .NET development. It will mark an important change of strategy for Microsoft in the arena of application lifecycle management (ALM).

Gone under VS2010 are the sundry Visual Studio Team System products, which sought to slice and dice ALM tooling for specific roles, such as database, architect and test. As Microsoft Senior Director of Developer Marketing Dave Mendlen tells it, the company learned that professionals in development organizations often wear multiple hats. Forcing them to purchase a mission-specific version of Visual Studio did not work well.

Now the ALM and team-based functionality of VS2010 is spread incrementally through the three main Visual Studio SKUs (Professional, Premier and Ultimate), and the results, according to Forrester Research Vice President Dave West, are impressive.

"VS2010 is an exciting release and a major one," West said in a recent email exchange. "The improvements in the area of Agile development, improved reporting and better testing make VS+TFS (Team Foundation Server) a very compelling story."

West singles out the recent acquisition of TeamPrise, which extends the reach of TFS' collaboration resources to PHP, Java and other non-.NET development environments. He also noted the strong relationship Microsoft has with Micro Focus in the area of COBOL and legacy development.

"If they continue to invest, as they have said they will, they will build out a very strong cross-platform offering."

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/07/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

VSM's New Look And Extended Coverage

By now you no doubt noticed that the site is sporting a new look. The visual makeover goes hand-in-hand with a refresh of Visual Studio Magazine, which features a redesigned cover and some new directions with the editorial content.

Starting with the April issue, Visual Studio Magazine editors are working with the Visual Studio team at Microsoft to bring unique and targeted how-to features and coverage to readers of Visual Studio Magazine and our Web site. You'll find two features in the April issue authored by members of the Microsoft Visual Studio team: Cloud Development in Visual Studio 2010 and The Evolution of Visual C++ in Visual Studio 2010.

In addition, the April issue features the first installment of VS Insider, a monthly column penned by members of the Visual Studio team at Microsoft. This month Dave Mendlen, senior director of Developer Marketing at Microsoft, checks in as our VS Insider columnist. We hope the new column will give our readers a glimpse inside the workings of the Visual Studio team at Microsoft, while providing an early look at fascinating new work coming out of Redmond.

Another change you may notice in the print magazine is the new VS Toolbox department in the front of the book. Long-time Visual Studio Magazine contributor and Practical ASP.NET column author Peter Vogel is leading our expanded tools and products coverage. In his role as tools editor at VSM, Peter will review one or two new developer products in the pages of Visual Studio Magazine each month. He'll also be providing extended takes and insights in his new ToolTracker blog. Look for behind-the-scenes details on product testing, updates on previously reviewed products, and useful news on the latest tools for .NET developers.

There's a lot going on at Visual Studio Magazine and we expect the torrid pace to continue as we round the corner into spring and summer. We're always looking for good ideas and input. If you have any thoughts on what we can do to improve Visual Studio Magazine, email me at [email protected]

Posted by Michael Desmond on 04/01/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments

Openness on Display at MIX 10

Microsoft has been pursuing a strategy of increasingly open and interoperable systems for a few years now, a strategy that got its start in the Developer Division under Corporate Vice President Scott Guthrie.

So I guess we shouldn't be surprised that this year's MIX event is actively pushing the openness effort at Redmond to new extremes.

Consider today's keynote session, which included a dive into Microsoft's Open Data Protocol (OData), a technology that promises to throw open the doors to all sorts of privately and publicly accessible data and information. Or look at Guthrie's announcement about Microsoft's support for the open source jQuery JavaScript Library, to which Redmond will be actively contributing code and resources. Or consider Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer (IE), and his focus standards (namely, HTML 5) in the upcoming IE9 Web browser.

Make no mistake, Microsoft is committed to .NET and Windows. But the days of Redmond jealously withholding support and access --especially in the developer space -- are long gone. And if Guthrie's long track record in the DevDiv is any indication, we can expect more openness down the road.

Posted by Michael Desmond on 03/16/2010 at 1:15 PM0 comments