VS 2008 'Roll-up' Is Data-Driven

New Service Packs for Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5 bring data-access technology to .NET Framework.

Microsoft released the public betas of the first Visual Studio (VS) 2008 and .NET 3.5 Framework Service Packs (SPs) last month. Along with the usual performance enhancements, bug fixes and stability improvements, the SP1 releases bring anticipated data-access technologies to the .NET Framework.

The SP1 bits, made available on May 12, let developers download the VS 2008 SP1 rollup or only the .NET 3.5 SP1 runtime. The release of the first Service Pack is pivotal to many dev shops that are wary of putting programs into production before a major new release is patched.

Waiting Patiently
Among those waiting to upgrade to VS 2008 and the .NET 3.5 Framework is the Southwest Florida Water Management District, winner of this year's Redmond Developer News Innovator Award in the SOA category.

"We feel much better once that first Service Pack is out," says Clint Wood, application manager for the water district, based in Brooksville, Fla., which is near Tampa. "We really can't afford to get knocked out of the water because we're waiting for bug fixes."

Presuming the Service Pack is released this summer as scheduled, the water district plans to start transitioning its .NET development to the new release in the October-to-November time frame, Wood says.

The .NET 3.5 SP1 includes key components promised by Microsoft: the latest public updates of the ADO.NET Entity Framework for mapping object and relational data and ADO.NET Data Services (formerly code-named "Astoria"), a framework for building on-site, REST-based data services, layered on top of Windows Communication Foundation (WCF).

"These are the updated versions that don't require you to download two or three separate installs," explains Elisa Flasko, community program manager for data programmability at Microsoft. "It's one, updated Service Pack."

Both data-access technologies were respectively in beta and community technology preview (CTP) status in December. ADO.NET Entity Framework beta 3 was released that month; ADO.NET Data Services was part of the ASP.NET 3.5 Extensions CTP.

The latest versions of the technology are the final betas before the SP1 is released to manufacturing (RTM), according to Microsoft. "We do have a ton of updates," says Flasko. "This is sort of our beta 4 for Entity Framework and our beta 1 for ADO.NET Data Services. We've progressed a lot in the last six months. Now we're part of the [.NET 3.5] Framework and the tools are part of the framework."

Preview of SP1
[click image for larger view]

Back in the Framework
Entity Framework (EF) first appeared in "Orcas" beta 1, and then was abruptly moved out of band just days after the beta release. The object relational mapping framework, based on Microsoft's version of the Entity Data Model, is still a work in progress. Some problems will not be addressed in EF version 1, such as "persistence ignorance," according to Roger Jennings, developer and principal at California-based OakLeaf Systems.

"One issue has been resolved," he says. "You can now pass complete entities across tiers with Windows Communication Foundation, which is an important feature that allows you to use Entity Framework components with service-oriented architecture." VS 2008 SP1 provides an Entity Framework Designer.

The Service Pack also includes the LinqDataSource for Entity Framework. "Everybody has been waiting for that," observes Jennings.

Open Source Code for Silverlight

Silverlight tooling may be absent from the Visual Studio 2008 Service Pack, but cross-platform developers can finally download the source code for Moonlight, the open source project chartered with building a Silverlight runtime for Linux.

Miguel de Icaza and his Mono team at Novell Inc. released the first public source code for interested developers and contributors in May, but cautioned that the app is not near beta or feature complete. Built on Novell's open source .NET platform called Mono, Moonlight 1.0, when it is released, will support all Linux distributions, according to de Icaza, along with Firefox 2 and 3, Konqueror and Opera browsers.

The first release will support the JavaScript programming model found in Silverlight 1.0, the media player that Microsoft released in September 2007. The Mono team is also planning to support the .NET programming model for rich Internet apps in Silverlight 2.0, which is currently in beta 1.

Moonlight was announced in tandem with the Silverlight 1.0 release last September. The technology is the result of what de Icaza terms an "informal partnership" with Microsoft. The Mono team has had access to Silverlight test suites and specifications. Microsoft also plans to post the media codecs for open source users. Moonlight is another cross-platform effort in a string of informal partnerships between Microsoft and open source projects.

-- K.R.

Changes to Astoria
ADO.NET Data Services was just a prototype prior to December, and some of the naming conventions have changed in SP1, according to Flasko. "In December we weren't really sure how it was going to ship," she says. "In general, we take our naming conventions from where we are actually releasing, so some of those did change a little bit."

To date, Microsoft has made three client libraries (programming models for consuming data services) available for ADO.NET Data Services: .NET, Silverlight 2 and AJAX. SP1 includes only the .NET client library. The Astoria client library for Silverlight 2 will be included in Silverlight 2 beta 2, according to Flasko. And the latest AJAX client library is available on CodePlex.

With SP1, developers will also get a better glimpse of tooling for ASP.NET Dynamic Data, the data scaffolding framework for building data-driven Web apps against a LINQ to SQL or Entity Data Model. For compatibility with VS 2008 SP1, Microsoft advises developers to download the latest version of ASP.NET Dynamic Data from CodePlex.

The VS 2008 Service Pack is also the first release to provide "full support" for SQL Server 2008, according to Microsoft. SQL Server 2008 is still in beta, with RTM currently scheduled in the third quarter. VS 2008 SP1 supports the new Date and Time Data Types for LINQ to SQL but it doesn't have any support for spatial Data Types, such as geometry or geology, according to Jennings.

More Than Data
Other SP1 highlights include new functionality for the Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) designers, WCF, ASP.NET AJAX, Visual Studio Team System, C# and VB enhancements, the new MFC Office 2007 Ribbon, and installation improvements such as a .NET Client Profile Setup tool, according to Microsoft. SP1 does not update Silverlight tooling. VS 2008 enhancements are expected when the Silverlight 2 beta 2 drops later this summer.

The final releases of VS 2008 SP1 and .NET 3.5 SP1 will be available free to registered developers this summer, according to Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president for Microsoft's .NET Developer Division. Check out Guthrie's blog for a complete laundry list of fixes, new technologies and tools in SP1, and to find out what you need to know before installing the beta.

About the Author

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

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