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Microsoft brings programming tools under .Net umbrella

The software giant unveils Visual Studio for Applications technology aimed at developers who build Web services that can be customized.

Microsoft has fired its first .Net volley in the new year.

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Will developers embrace .Net tools?
Robert Green, Microsoft Visual Studio lead project manager
On Tuesday at the VSLive developers conference in San Francisco, Microsoft is taking the wraps off its latest programming technology, called Visual Studio for Applications (VSA).

VSA is a .Net-ready version of its Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) code.

VBA is a set of programming tools that developers can use to customize applications that are developed in-house or sold commercially. To date, Microsoft has licensed VBA to about 200 software developers. These developers have delivered a variety of VBA applications that are jumping-off points from customer-developed software.

VSA aims to take VBA to Microsoft's .Net software-as-a-service strategy.

In the VBA model, business logic, or the set of rules for customizing applications, sat alongside an application's interface on the desktop. But in a Web-centric mode, business logic can reside independently from an application interface and back-end processing software.

"Today on the Web, there is no easy way to customize business logic," explained Robert Green, a Microsoft Visual Studio product manager.

For the developers interested in doing so, there have been a number of unsavory options, including shipping source code with every copy of an application, providing consultants to customize applications, or requiring customers to customize applications from scratch.

By incorporating VSA into their .Net-compatible applications, Green said, developers will be able to deliver customizable, Web-enabled applications without these hassles.

Microsoft plans to release the first beta, or test, version of the VSA software development kit at the same time as the company releases the second beta of Visual Studio .Net, Microsoft's next-generation developer tool suite. Microsoft has said it plans to deliver a second beta of Visual Studio .Net in the first quarter and to ship the final version of the product in the second half of 2001.

Initially, the only Visual Studio language supporting VSA will be Visual Basic .Net. Microsoft plans to make the VSA tools compatible with its other Visual Studio .Net languages, such as C++, at some later date, according to Green.

VSA will be licensed the same way VBA is. Summit Software is the sales agent for both technologies. VSA will be available for free for evaluation and on a royalty basis when incorporated into third-party applications.

VSA code runs wherever the .Net framework runs. The .Net framework is a set of class libraries and programming interfaces for which Microsoft is encouraging Web services developers to write. Once Microsoft releases its expected .Net compact framework code later this spring, VSA will be able to run on devices.

Microsoft is expected to unveil a handful of VSA licensees on Tuesday, including CI Technologies, Epicor Software, Great Plains Software (a company Microsoft acquired in late December), Marlborough Stirling and NetIQ.