Tracking Orcas

The new Visual Studio preview offers functionality with LINQ, AJAX and .NET Framework 3.5.

Developers who take a test drive of the March Community Technology Preview (CTP) of the new Visual Studio (VS), code-named "Orcas," will find a clearer roadmap of the toolset that's coming in the beta releases expected later this year.

Described as a "milestone" pre-release by Microsoft, the March CTP is the first version of the IDE to implement tools and functionality supporting Language Integration Query (LINQ), AJAX and the upcoming .NET Framework 3.5, which will be released at the same time as Orcas, but as a separate download.

"The specific areas [in .NET 3.5] that are of interest for developers are looking at the object hierarchy, the framework and what APIs we've built into the framework," says Prashant Sridharan, Microsoft group product manager for Visual Studio.

.NET 3.5 will support applications built using .NET 2.0 and 3.0, without any "breaking changes," according to Microsoft.

Key Functionality
The March Visual Studio CTP also integrates the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) Designer (code-named "Cider"), new Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Workflow Foundation (WF) tools, and better tools for building 2007 Office apps (support for Click-Once deployment). It extends the role-based and Team System collaboration features as well.

"The focus areas of this CTP -- the areas that are most stable -- are around LINQ, WPF and some of the Office tools," Sridharan says.

LINQ functionality, which includes support for VB 9.0, C# 3.0 and ADO.NET, will give developers a chance to give the VS team feedback "on where we are," he says.

"LINQ will be extraordinarily important to enterprise developers because everything in the enterprise is about data, analyzing data, connecting data. It's really all about helping developers get to that data in a more intuitive and programmer-centric manner."

Enterprise developers should download the CTP, according to Burton Group Research Director Peter O'Kelly.

"I think that this CTP is one the large enterprises will want to start exploring sooner, rather than later," he says. "Because with LINQ in particular, and getting tighter integration with the rest of the things in the .NET Framework, this is really on the road to Orcas."

Kick the Tires or Crash
The VS team started to release CTPs in early 2004 during the run-up to VS2005, which shipped in March 2005. With products like Visual Studio, there are typically two betas with many interim CTPs before the release to manufacturing.

Sridharan cautions developers to approach Visual Studio CTPs as a snapshot of the product's progress, noting that functionality can change between iterations.

"CTPs are point-in-time releases. We don't put that much effort into finishing them, per se," he explains. "They're designed for customers if they've got a spare machine or [if] they want to run it inside of a virtual machine to download, to kind of kick the tires a little bit and give us initial feedback.

"With Visual Studio 2005, the feedback we got from developers was extraordinary. We were able to act on many of those features and in some areas where we weren't able to affect the immediate product, we were able to make changes for this current product, Orcas."

Sridharan calls the feedback center "our primary vehicle for customer intelligence ... in terms of being able to make the right decisions on what we deliver in the product."

Visual Studio Orcas is built around three key goals, according to Sridharan: to provide programmers with an unprecedented level of productivity; to support all major platform advances from Microsoft, specifically Windows Vista, SQL Server, Office 2007 and Windows "Longhorn" Server; and to help teams collaborate more effectively.

"In Orcas, there are a bunch of features that help you annotate your code so that you get that spiritual equivalent, if you will, of revision marks in [Microsoft] Word," he says. "I'll be able to look at a piece of code and see who edited it and also find out why they edited it. As a development organization that gives me a lot of insight into how my code is changing over time and it also helps me track down bugs and owners of bugs much more quickly."

Traditionally, Microsoft offers a Go Live license at beta 2, and that will almost certainly be the case here. "The entire .NET 3.5 Framework will have a Go Live license in beta 2," says Sridharan. "I think there are a lot of benefits to Orcas that most enterprises will be happy to glom onto and a lot of those benefits are enabled by that framework."

O'Kelly says Microsoft has saturated the market with new capabilities, and many of these platforms and technologies represent the culmination of years of work.

"It's actually kind of staggering. I think many organizations are going to have to take a deep breath and block a lot of time to explore WCF, WPF, WF and all these things, because it is a consistent progression," O'Kelly says. "These are potentially very big [technologies] for organizations that use them effectively.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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