Microsoft's developer division is starting to grab the spotlight away from Vista and Office. The group, headed by corporate vice president, Soma Somasegar, is preparing a range of new products, a major conference, as well as preparing to battle multimedia software giant Adobe Systems on its home turf.
Kicking things off earlier this week was Microsoft's announcement that it had gained the support of a number of leading Internet video broadcasters for its upcoming rich media technology, formerly known as Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere and now renamed Silverlight.
Microsoft is also expected to announce the availability of beta one of the next version of its flagship software development suite, Visual Studio.
Currently code-named Orcas, the toolkit will provide a "consistent programming model" through a variety environments, including the Web, Vista, Office 2007 and Longhorn Server, said Somasegar in an interview on yesterday. "This way, you as a developer will only need to learn one programming model," he said.
This beta does not have all of the features of the final version, said Somasegar, as Microsoft plans to release a second beta later this year. While Microsoft has previously said that it would ship Orcas by year's end, Somasegar said that may not happen.
"I wouldn't say that the dates are in flux," Somasegar said. "My philosophy is to ship when the product is right and ready."
Microsoft is also working on the next version of Visual Studio Team Server, code-named "Rosario." Somasegar did not mention an expected release date for that product.
The unveiling of new development tools -- and the concomitant retiring of older ones -- hasn't always been welcomed by Microsoft developers. Many dislike being forced to learn new tools and/or having to rewrite existing applications to run in new environments. For instance, Microsoft's decision to retire Visual Basic 6 in favor of Visual Basic.NET caused customers and Microsoft Most Valuable Professionals (MVPs) to petition the company to reverse its decision. That effort was to no avail.
More recently, Microsoft last month said it would halt work on its long-running Visual FoxPro data development tool, though it will continue supporting users until 2015. Still, unhappy FoxPro users are also circulating an Internet petition against the move.
"Some of these transitions have been smooth, others not so smooth," acknowledged Somasegar. "Change is always a little hard. It's hard to hear that you have to go and learn something else." Somasegar hopes that Orcas' new features and ease-of-use will prove enticing, though.
Besides including the next version 3.5 of the .Net programming framework, Orcas will include new features such as multi-targeting, which lets developers create code that can simultaneously run in all versions of .Net without tweaking, and LINQ, which Somasegar called "an amazing innovation that makes querying data, whether it is in XML or object form, a first-class citizen."
Besides Visual Studio, Somasegar is also busy overseeing Silverlight and its accompanying new line of Expression design tools.
Expression will have its coming-out party at next month's Mix conference in Las Vegas, where Microsoft plans to pull out all stops to woo graphic and Web designers, an audience long loyal to Adobe tools such as Flash and Dreamweaver.
Microsoft is pricing many of its Expression tools less than Adobe's equivalent offerings. And in the case of Silverlight, Microsoft is trying hard to quickly build a consumer audience that will make the platform more enticing to designers and developers.
Somasegar acknowledges that some designers have a strong natural aversion to anything put outby Microsoft. He argues that designers will be persuaded by Expression's compatibility with Visual Studio, which eases the workflow between them and the millions of Visual Studio developers out there. Furthermore, "people do change over time," he said.
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