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Visual Studio 2010 to come with 'black box'

The next Microsoft developer tool suite is set to offer a TiVo-like feature for testers, giving programmers video reproductions of their software bugs.

Updated 9:56 a.m. PDT: Added screen shot and a link to Microsoft's Visual Studio 2010 page.

Airplanes are equipped with recorders that capture both cockpit audio and flight data, so in the event that something goes wrong, investigators can try to determine the source of the problem.

Microsoft is aiming to give software developers the same kind of access. In the next version of its developer tool suite, to be known as Visual Studio 2010, Microsoft plans to include the ability to record the full screens of what testers are seeing, as well as data about their machine. When a test application crashes, the technology will enable developers to see the bug as it occurred.

In an interview last week, Microsoft Developer Division Director Dave Mendlen said the feature is designed to avoid the all-too-frequent conflict that occurs when a software tester finds a bug that the developer says it can't reproduce. Internally, the feature has been called "TiVo for debuggers."

Visual Studio 2010 screenshot
Visual Studio Team System 2010 will offer tools for managing test cases and execution, and will boost support for filing actionable bugs. Microsoft

Although the feature is initially only aimed at in-house testers, a similar feature could one day find its way into broader testing, potentially even into Microsoft beta products. "I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this become a way that we do beta management, going forward," Mendlen said.

Microsoft offered scant other details about Visual Studio 2010 and the .Net Framework 4.0. It's a safe bet that better support for cloud-based services will be included, though. "That is certainly an area that Visual Studio and the .Net Framework will have to address," Mendlen said. "As we enable service-based technologies, of course we will have to tool it."

The company is also talking about new modeling tools it says will make it easier for programmers new to a team to get a sense of how earlier versions of the software work. One of the other goals is to add more business intelligence tools--things like dashboards and cockpits--that enable the project managers to assess whether a development project is on track. "The guys that are paying the bills often get very little info," Mendlen said.

Microsoft wouldn't get too much into other features of the product, but it outlined a few broad areas where it is seeking to improve the product, including "enabling cloud computing" and "powering breakthrough departmental applications."

Mendlen said it is expected to ship in fiscal year 2010 (which runs through June 2010).

"I can tell you it won't ship in 2011," he said.

The Redmond giant is not the only company looking to transfer the TiVo notion to software development. A company called Replay Solutions launched a product in June for enterprise Java applications.

Microsoft itself used the notion of a "black box" feature back in 2005.

Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates talked about adding a "black box" to Windows (without the video-recording ability, though). Microsoft later said it wasn't broadly expanding the "Watson" error-reporting capabilities beyond the kinds of data it already had been collecting. It was never totally clear as to what Gates was referring to.

A Microsoft representative did say that "the two technologies are not related and that in Visual Studio Team System the 'black box' is only on testers machines and only turned on when the tester decides it should be turned on."

Speaking of 2005, that same year, a pair of Canadian developers created a Visual Studio 2010 concept, kicked around by a back in 2005. Since they were the first to mention Visual Studio 2010, I thought I would give them some link love.