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No reason to wait for the choreographed launch of Microsoft's latest-and-greatest software development tools three months from now. The real thing--Visual Studio 2008--has already arrived.
Microsoft last week released Visual Studio 2008 to manufacturing and made it immediately available to MSDN subscribers. Microsoft will formally introduce the new toolset on Feb. 27 along with the Windows Server 2008 operating system and SQL Server 2008 database. For Visual Studio 2008, however, the gala will be a mere formality.
The upgraded toolset, three years in the making, packs 250 new features. It's available in standard, professional, and multideveloper team editions, as well as a free Express Edition for beginners. The related .Net Framework 3.5, an improved version of Microsoft's managed code programming model for building applications that work on various software platforms and devices, is also available. Together, they represent Microsoft's development tools of choice for apps that run on Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and SQL Server 2008.
New in Visual Studio 2008 is Language Integrated Query, which translates and compiles object-oriented programming into standard queries. LINQ figures out the structure of data that a developer is trying to code against and offers appropriate fields to query the data via so-called smart typing. LINQ should accelerate development and lessen the need for developers to learn other methods of writing to relational databases.
Visual Studio has always been integrated with the most recent version of the .Net Framework, but backward compatibility was lacking. Existing apps had to be upgraded to the latest version of the .Net Framework.
"You would have to move your entire underpinning application framework, and that's often inconvenient," says Dave Mendlen, director of developer tools marketing for Visual Studio 2008. Microsoft is introducing multitargeting, which lets developers use a drop-down menu to choose which version of the framework they want to target with their applications. The reference libraries and toolboxes available to the developer adjust accordingly.
Visual Studio 2008 also comes with Visual Studio Tools for Office, which can be used to customize Office's ribbon interface, build new Office user interface controls, and create forms that stylistically duplicate those used by Outlook. "Before, we'd have to trick some Win APIs, try and get around some back doors, and do it without being fully supported by Microsoft," says Mike Walker, CTO of FWBS, which writes legal software that adds functionality to Office.
The goal is to let developers focus more on the problems they need to solve and opportunities they envision, and less on the code needed to do those things. So Visual Studio 2008 will be judged ultimately by its business impact, not its nifty features.