Ramping Up for VS 2005
Do you feel as though we've been working with Visual Studio 2005 for years? It's because we have.
I confess: I miss the pre-.NET days, when I actually felt slightly like a journalist sharing secrets about upcoming versions of Microsoft's development tools.
Previewing a developer version of Office so we could highlight the upcoming features in VB5 was exciting. We felt like we were getting away with something. And readers were practically begging for info on the next version of the tool. Will the next version have inheritance? Will you be able to create your own ActiveX controls? Will the next version include static linking?
Today, we feel as though we know everything about Microsoft's upcoming tools long before there's a Community Technical Preview (CTP), even. We see pre-pre-alpha demo versions of tools with features that won't even make it to the CTP stage. We see another round of features at the CTP stage that won't make beta. At beta, we have a reasonably good idea of exactly what the development tool will include.
It feels as though we've been working with Visual Studio 2005 for years, now—largely, because we have. The same is true of the next version of SQL Server. Today's information cycle gives you time to get excited about the features, but also to grow disenchanted when you realize there are still holes that you wish could be filled. It even leaves time to grow excited again about different features as you realize the tool handles tasks you missed the first time around, and then time to be disenchanted a second time around as you realize, again, maybe they aren't quite everything you need or hoped for. At this point, there are still several months until the final version is released—time for the process to repeat itself a third time.
It isn't that the tools are more disappointing than they were before. It is that the process of discovery and disenchantment happens so much earlier. In the past, when you were doled out incremental bits of information about what the next version of a tool would include, the real excitement-and-disenchantment cycle didn't typically begin until the product was released. The cycle would work itself out a couple times, and Microsoft would be readying a new version of the tool. Now that process begins years before there is ever a shipping version of the product.
That said, Microsoft's current approach for sharing product information is far, far preferable to its old approach.
As a developer, it is to your advantage to know everything about a new tool you'll be using as early as possible. It gives you more time to evaluate and test before using the tool in production. Even if you do nothing with the tool immediately, it gives your peers a chance to play with and stress-test the new tool, which means you'll have a wealth of information available to you when you are finally ready to pick it up. In the past, you had to wait a year or 18 months for this information to coalesce; now, it is typically available within months of the tool shipping, if not sooner.
As the editor of this magazine, I find this process occasionally frustrating. I'm a pragmatist at heart, and I prefer to stick with things I can use and explore right now. I have some curiosity about how things will be down the road, but my main interest in the future is typically with respect to how my current work fits into what's coming.
So it is with Visual Studio 2005, which will make its debut shortly. I've been through the excitement-and-disenchantment cycle at least three times. I'm excited about where some things are going in general—this is a tremendously powerful tool with a lot of RAD functionality baked in—but disappointed that I still don't feel this version does everything it could to bring everyone along from the VB5 and VB6 days. Of course, I'll have more to say about what I like and don't like specifically in the months ahead, as the product is released and put to use in production environments. In the meantime, Visual Studio Magazine will keep showing you how to put these tools to use. Feel free to make suggestions for articles you'd like to see, and we'll do our best to accommodate you.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.