Local users give Visual Studio Team tools the thumbs-up

After eight years of disparate solutions, .NET developers get a tool set they can get their teeth into

Early local users of Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2005 Team System (VSTS) are impressed with the way it builds on the previous capabilities of Visual Studio.

In an eight-year effort to come up with something to aid the whole process of .Net-based development, Microsoft has provided for individual roles in the development process by extending Visual Studio. But, Microsoft programme manager Michael Leworthy admits, these have not satisfactorily tied them together so they form a complete process.

VSTS and its key feature the central Team Foundation Server (TFS), which is to be formally launched in the next few weeks, are at the very least the first stage of that solution.

Architects have, by and large, not been using Visual Studio but their own favoured tools, with the result that their output was hard to examine and integrate automatically with the rest of the development process. The architects’ piece is still to be fully developed, Leworthy said in his address to last week’s Software Development Conference.

The tighter organisation of VSTS keeps developers more focused on immediate priorities and their own role in the process, says software architect Jeremy Boyd, of Intergen, who is an early user. VSTS integrates their output into a visible cycle, storing all data on the TFS.

It facilitates communication and collaboration “which is always difficult, particularly in large teams,” says Boyd. “All the metrics are being fed in directly by the people doing the development, all the way up to the programme manager” and hence the manager gets a good measure of total progress and any bottlenecks that exist.

The links between the different tasks are accomplished through web services or the COM interface and there are sufficient industry-wide standards for the output of developers using non-Microsoft tools to be “interrogated” and brought into the central server, Leworthy says.

VSTS builds-in Microsoft’s recent intensive focus on security. Developers are warned if they risk creating dangerous features, such as potential buffer overflow.

Airways Corporation software engineer Peter Jones says VSTS was easy to set up and accommodates use of Airways’ existing tools for issue tracking and testing.

“There are bits and pieces [still lacking] that I wouldn’t mind having.” Jones says the chief shortcoming is the web-style presentation for the “Team Explorer” GUI that gives the top-level view. There is a web tool available for the purpose from a company called Teamware, says Leworthy. “And we will extend that a lot more.”

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