Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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A Visual Studio Release Grows in Brooklyn

Yesterday, Microsoft held its flagship launch event for Office 2010 in Manhattan. Today, the Redmond software company is holding a local launch event for Visual Studio (VS) 2010, in Brooklyn. How come information workers get the 212 treatment and developers are relegated to 718? Well, here's the thing: the Brooklyn Marriott is actually a great place for an event, but you need some intimate knowledge of New York City to know that. NBC's Studio 8H, where the Office launch was held yesterday (and from where SNL is broadcast) is a pretty small venue, but you'd need some inside knowledge to recognize that. Likewise, while Office 2010 is a product whose value is apparent, appreciating VS 2010's value takes a bit more savvy.

Setting aside its year-based designation, this release of VS, counting the old Visual Basic releases, is the 10th version of the product. How can a developer audience get excited about an integrated development environment when it reaches double-digit version numbers? Well, it can be tough. Luckily, Microsoft sent Jay Schmelzer, a Group Program Manager from the Visual Studio team in Redmond, to come tell the Brooklyn audience why they should be excited.

Turns out there's a lot of reasons. Support for SharePoint development is a big one. In previous versions of VS, that support has been anemic, at best. Shortage of SharePoint developers is a huge issue in the industry, and this should help. There's also built in support for Windows Azure (Microsoft's cloud platform) and, through a download, support for the forthcoming Windows Phone 7 platform. ASP.NET MVC, a "close-to-the-metal" Web development option that does away with the Web Forms abstraction layer, has a first-class presence in VS. So too does jQuery, the open source environment that makes JavaScript development a breeze. The jQuery support is so good that Microsoft now contributes to the jQuery project and offers IntelliSense support for it in the code editor.

Speaking of the VS code editor, it now supports multi-monitor setups, zoom-in and block selection. If you're not a developer, this may sound confusing and minute. I'll just say that for people who are developers, these are little things that really contribute to productivity, and that translates into lower development costs.

The really cool demo, though, was around Visual Studio 2010's new debugging features. This stuff is hard to showcase, but I believe it's truly breakthrough technology: imagine being able to step backwards in time to see what might have caused a bug. Cool? Now imagine being able to do that, even if you weren't the tester and weren't present while the testing was being done. Then imagine being able to see a video screen capture of what the tester was doing with your app when the bug occurred. VS 2010 allows all that. This could be the demise of the IWOMM ("it works on my machine") syndrome.

After the keynote, I asked Schmelzer if any of Microsoft's competitors have debugging tools that come close to VS 2010's. His answer was an earnest, "We don't think so." If that's true, that's a big deal, and a huge advantage for developer teams that adopt it. It will make software development much cheaper and more efficient. Kind of like holding a launch event at the Brooklyn Marriott instead of 30 Rock in Manhattan!

VS 2010 (version 10) and Office 2010 (version 14) aren't the only new product versions Microsoft is releasing right now. There's also SQL Server 2008 R2 (version 10.5), Exchange 2010 (version 8, I believe), SharePoint 2010 (version 4) and, of course, Windows 7. With so many new versions at such levels of maturity, I think it's fair to say Microsoft has reached middle-age. How does a company stave off a potential mid-life crisis, especially with young Turks like Google coming along and competing so fiercely? Hard to say. But if focusing on core value, including value that's hard to play into a sexy demo, is part of the answer, then Microsoft's doing OK. And if some new tricks, like Windows Phone 7, can gain some traction, that might round things out nicely.

Are the legacy products old tricks, or are they revised classics? I honestly don't know, because it's the market's prerogative to pass that judgment. I can say this, though: based on today's show, I think Microsoft's been doing its homework.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 05/13/2010

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