Microsoft has said it will release Visual Studio 2008, formerly code-named ‘Orcas,’ by the end of the month.
And while the content of the actual release is little mystery, Microsoft sprinkled in announcements of previews of related technologies, plus some liberalizing of Visual Studio partner programs that could see third party extensions of visual Studio targeting non-Microsoft platforms.
The highlight of Visual Studio 2008 is that it will support the latest version of the .NET framework, which is currently up to 3.5. That’s the version that extends support of .NET to the elements of the WinFX programming model of Vista, plus the release candidate of the cross-browser rich front end, Silverlight.
However, given that WinFX includes technologies that are still foreign to the bulk of .NET developers, Visual Studio 2008 will let you choose to develop and deploy with earlier versions of .NET, including 2.0, which added 64-it and IIS 6 support; and 3.0, which began adding some of the WinFX features.
Microsoft is releasing technology previews of a couple goodies including the newly announced Sync framework that will enable offline operation of rich Internet applications by providing the plumbing for users to synchronize when they connect. It also includes Popfly Explorer, a front end shell intended to make Popfly (which itself is intended to make mashup development for Silverlight easier for designers and non-programmers) even easier to access.
Finally, Microsoft is making several changes to its Visual Studio partnering program that provides the opportunity for third parties to use the Visual Studio shell for programs running against non-Microsoft targets, and for elite members of the Visual Studio partner program to gain access for the first time to Visual Studio source code.
The non-Microsoft platform provision will enable third parties of niche tools that run within Visual Studio to target platforms outside the Microsoft sphere, That could include handheld devices that are not Windows Mobile or CE compliant, game stations, and PHP tools that could target other web platforms.
The source code access extends Microsoft’s Shared Source programs to Visual Studio partners. In this case, elite partners could gain access to the source code so they could more effectively test interoperability if their tools with Visual Studio. This is a capability that .NET language vendors have been asking for, explained Sean Nandi, group product manager for Microsoft’s development tools marketing team.
As noted, there’s been little mystery as to the content of Visual Studio 2008 because Microsoft has been releasing Community Technology Previews (CTPs) that provide developers an opportunity to play with new features of the development environment. It’s a strategy that’s used by virtually all tools vendors today, such as IBM with its alphaWorks program.
Announcement of the Popfly shell is perfectly consistent with the strategy behind Popfly, which was to make mashup design easier to use by people whose day job is not programming. In essence, it makes an easy to use tool easier to access.
As for the cross-platform announcement, it’s a painless way of Microsoft to extend its Visual Studio market footprint across platforms even if Windows is your prime focus.