With the latest release of Visual Studio, Microsoft appears to be going through something akin to a 12-step program, and has reached the step where one attempts to make amends for past behavior -- namely, its Windows-centric behavior.
During his keynote speech at the TechEd developer's conference in New Orleans, Microsoft's vice president of tools Paul Gross told the audience about the company's plans to extend the reach of its Visual Studio upgrade, Version 6.0, to interoperate with different operating systems and platforms.
In doing so, he revealed that Microsoft now does believe that organisations are using operating systems other than Windows.
"You have a range of desktops, you don't only have Windows desktops, and we see that," Gross said.
This marks a change in focus from earlier tools campaigns, when the company pushed developers on the idea of building the best Windows applications they could create.
Luckily for developers who are living that cross-platform reality, Microsoft appears to be putting its money where its mouth is. Visual Studio 6.0, which will ship commercially on Sept. 2, will feature cross-platform client capabilities thanks to the use of HTML, Gross said.
But perhaps more strategically, Visual Studio 6.0 will gain a number of interoperability features with key enterprise software -- such as Oracle's database and SAP AG's enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite -- that will extend the usefulness of Microsoft's tools beyond simply "edit, compile, debug" to architecting three-tier, enterprisewide applications, Gross said. Microsoft refers to its tools and services that help accomplish this as the Distributed InterNet Architecture (DNA).
"DNA (helps) build, manage, and deploy applications. Those applications have to run on more than NT, they have to interoperate with code on AS/400, MVS, and Unix," Gross said.
In the unspecified future, Microsoft hopes to boost the components of DNA to allow, for example, developers to write client code and let it be determined at runtime whether this code will run on a full-fledged PC, thin client, or just be accessed from the server, Gross said. And on the server side, DNA's Component Object Model (COM)+ will feature a stronger link to applications so that, for instance, it could be determined at runtime if a transaction in a business application needs to be performed in real time, or if it could be queued up for the next time a connection is made, he said.
In the meantime, Visual Studio 6.0 will provide some sorely needed links to other enterprise applications, according to Gross and some conference attendees. It will include OLE DB and ODBC drivers for Oracle's database and for IBM's DB/2 and VSAM. And the suite's new database tools that work with Oracle 7.3 and 8.0 will help in designing schemas, including building and modifying Oracle tables, relationships, and indexes, Gross said.
One attendee who lauded this Oracle database feature also mentioned that Microsoft may have ulterior motives behind working with the namesake product of its arch enemy.
"If you're doing all your work and development (for the Oracle database) in Visual Studio 6.0, when (Microsoft's) SQL Server catches up to Oracle, people will say 'why am I paying Oracle all this money for the data engine when I could just use SQL Server?' They're waging a war with Oracle," said Graeme Thomson, chairman of Praxa Ltd., a systems integrator, in South Melbourne, Australia.
Also, with Microsoft's Repository 2.0 included in the new suite, Microsoft has opened up the information model to third-party licensees so that they can define new objects that can be stored in the repository, Gross said. And Microsoft demonstrated work the company has done with SAP so that R/3 objects, known as Business Application Programming Interfaces (BAPIs), can be stored in the repository and modified with any of Visual Studio's tools.
This feature will be a money-saver for SAP users, said Praxa's Thomson.
"Standard SAP tools are hard and messy. With Visual Studio 6.0 that will change. If you try to have a (dedicated) SAP developer, there's so much education involved that it becomes unattractive, and very expensive," Thomson said.
Microsoft also demonstrated a beta version of Visual Basic 6.0, showing the new database support, runtime support for Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), and the ability to build server-side applications.
Visual Studio 6.0 is slated for release on Sept. 2. Microsoft will send to TechEd attendees beta copies shortly after the conference.