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Microsoft prepares for Yukon, Longhorn

The software company readies new development tools before planned releases of revamped database and Windows operating system software.

Microsoft on Tuesday announced plans for new development tools, as the company continues to lay the groundwork for its next major database and operating system software releases.

The software maker plans to release an update to its Visual Studio.Net development tool bundle, code-named Whidbey, in the latter half of 2004, timed to coincide with the introduction of an overhaul to its SQL Server database, code-named Yukon.

Similarly, a later Visual Studio.Net release, code-named Orcas, will be tuned specifically for Longhorn, the next major release of Microsoft's desktop version of Windows, which is expected as early as 2005.

Microsoft's senior vice president of tools and servers, Eric Rudder, detailed the company's development tools roadmap at the VSLive software developer conference in New York.

A new release of Microsoft's development tools is typically a major event for Windows programmers. While other companies, such as Borland and Metrowerks, make Windows development tools, the majority of Windows programmers use Microsoft's tools package.

And for Microsoft, the new Visual Studio.Net releases are especially important as the company gears up for major product debuts. The company relies on developers to build new software applications that take advantage of its latest products in order to create demand and drive sales.

With Whidbey, Microsoft aims to boost the productivity of programmers and to simplify the process of deploying custom-built corporate applications, according to Microsoft executives. For example, Microsoft plans to make Web development with ASP.Net simpler by reducing the amount of code that's required for applications. Also, Whidbey will introduce tools to speed up development and database access using Visual Basic.

The update will incorporate the latest Microsoft-backed Web services standards and allow developers to convert existing applications written with version 1.1 of the .Net Framework to run on 64-bit servers unchanged. The .Net Framework is the "plumbing" for Microsoft's software that's needed to run Web services applications on Windows operating systems.

Developers trained with Whidbey will be able to build applications for devices that run Microsoft's mobile operating systems, including the Smartphone, Windows CE and the latest versions of the Pocket PC, according to Microsoft.

Microsoft also hopes to simplify programming with links to Web sites that provide technical information and code. For corporate application designers, Microsoft will boost the application modeling capabilities within Whidbey and provide close integration with configuration management and testing tools, executives said.

The Orcas release of Visual Studio.Net is being designed to take advantage of changes to Longhorn's user interface.

Orcas will also tap into the so-called managed services of Longhorn, or the security and management capabilities that Microsoft plans to include within Windows. Rather than needing to write code to ensure different levels of security or to manage application deployment, Orcas will let developers tap into Longhorn's built-in security and management features, company executives explained.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said in a speech last week that the software giant is linking the debut of new versions of Office, server software and many other products to the release of Longhorn.

Orcas will also enhance Microsoft's strategy of using Web services to integrate its own disparate products and connect into non-Windows applications, executives said. Microsoft plans to introduce versions of Visual Studio.Net that can create applications for both the desktop and the server editions of Longhorn.

As part of the tools roadmap, Microsoft announced changes to its partner program that are designed to make it easier to integrate third-party tools with Visual Studio.Net. The Microsoft Visual Studio Industry Partner program now gives software developers or academics access to the necessary code for writing applications that will work within Visual Studio.Net. Previously, partners that built tools that tied into Visual Studio.Net had to pay $10,000 per year.