14 February 2002 Software giant Microsoft has released its long-awaited integrated development environment (IDE) for web services. It represents Microsoft’s latest bid to add substance to its .Net initiative to prove that it is more than just a marketing slogan.
Visual Studio.Net is a toolkit intended to help developers turn their software applications into web services and thereby enable any number of disparate applications to work together.
The new IDE, which took three years and 1,500 engineers to develop, represents a makeover of Microsoft’s previous Visual Studio suite, which included the popular Visual Basic and Visual C++ developer tools.
However, the key difference between Visual Studio.Net and its predecessor is the ability to write applications using more than 20 different programming languages. The company says that this will increase inter-operability between applications developed for a wide range of devices.
However, applications built in Visual Studio.Net will only run on Microsoft’s proprietary common language run-time (CLR), which is only available for Microsoft platforms. It is not yet clear whether Microsoft will port this key part in its entirety to any competing platforms.
Microsoft believes that the CLR environment is the most important part of the package because it includes a number of pre-built elements of code that will form the basis for all applications built with Visual Studio.Net. These elements will increase the speed and reduce the cost of building web services and will boost developer productivity by 50%, says the company.
The Redmond giant also wheeled out 190 Visual Studio.NET partners including Compuware, which has released a version of its DevPartner analysis tool; software vendor ActiveState with Visual Perl, a port of the popular open source developer tool; and Fujitsu, which announced NetCobol for Visual Studio.Net.
Microsoft claims that more than three million developers are currently testing and deploying applications with early release versions of the web services toolkit.
The product suite was unveiled by Microsoft co-founder and chairman Bill Gates in front of a packed crowd at the VSLive Developer conference in San Francisco, California.
The software giant also said that it will spend $5 billion (€5.74bn) a year on research and development to ensure its entire product line is compliant with XML, the simple object access protocol (SOAP) and universal description, discovery and integration (UDDI).
First, the company will build an “XML wrapper” for every Microsoft product – effectively an additional layer of code that uses XML to transfer data. It then plans to release products that include XML as the central data type. An XML-based version of SQL Server, code-named Yukon, is slated for release next year.
Despite an expensive and ambitious web services strategy, critics still argue that Microsoft is still playing catch-up. BEA Systems, for example, released version 6.1 of its WebLogic Java application server last year which included the ability to generate SOAP and web services description language (WSDL).
Microsoft’s arch enemy Sun Microsystems also claims that Visual Studio.Net is not nearly as inter-operable as it claims because the developer toolkit reinforces lock-in to Microsoft Windows as the product only supports Windows application programming interfaces (APIs) and binaries.
However, Microsoft says it will support Java development in its forthcoming J# development toolkit, but the extent of inter-operability between .Net-based web services and Java-based web services are still unclear.