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MS catches up in Web tool market

The software giant will announce on Monday a reworked and substantially more powerful version of its Visual InterDev tool.

Saying it wants to do for Web-based development what its Visual Basic tool did for client-server deployment, Microsoft (MSFT) will announce on Monday a reworked and substantially more powerful version of its Visual InterDev tool.

The tool, used by Web developers to build both the client and server sides of business applications, will be announced at Microsoft's Web Tech Ed conference in Palm Springs, California next week. Microsoft is also slated to disclose additional details on COM+, the next generation of the company's software component architecture.

Microsoft is generally seen as being behind in the Web tool space, an area teeming with much smaller competitors, including Allaire, which sells a tool called Cold Fusion, NetObjects, which will next week ship a new version of its Fusion development tool, and Netscape Communications, which sells Visual JavaScript.

With the new version of Visual InterDev, which is expected to be labeled version 2.0, Microsoft is borrowing heavily from its hugely popular Visual Basic development tool, product manager Garth Fort said.

The tool builds HTML and script-based applications. New features include client and server-side debugging, a new HTML page editor with support for Dynamic HTML and other features; better links to database servers, especially Microsoft's SQL Server; and team development features.

Microsoft will also bundle its FrontPage 98 Web site development and management tool with Visual InterDev, Fort said.

Visual InterDev will also mark the debut of a new streamlined user interface, code-named Vegas, to be used throughout Microsoft's tool lineup.

The tool will enter beta testing in the second quarter. While a firm ship date has not been set, Fort said the tool will ship with the next release of Microsoft's Visual Studio tool bundle. That release, code-named Aspen, is being delivered in stages throughout the year.

COM+, first disclosed at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference held last September, is a version of the company's existing Windows framework, called COM, or component object model. Microsoft said COM+ has been extended with additional infrastructure enhancements to make building cross-platform applications easier, for both corporate developers and software vendors, using any development language.

COM+ will be delivered as part of upcoming releases of Windows, including Windows 98 and Windows NT 5.0.

To make COM+ truly useful, Microsoft will add COM+ support to its tools. That support is slated for delivery in another future release of Visual Studio, code-named Rainier, being developed in tandem with Aspen, according to Microsoft executives. That release will deliver COM+ technology support, additional tools targeted at Windows NT 5.0, and specific OLE DB support for Microsoft's next-generation database server, code-named Sphinx. Sphinx uses OLE DB, a universal data access API (application programming interface), as its primary data access interface.

Rainier delivery is slated for sometime later next year.