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MS wraps up development tools

Microsoft launches Visual Studio 97--formerly code-named Boston--a single-package collection of the company's individual development tools. Integrating them is still a ways off.

Having successfully turned their company's myriad desktop applications into the integrated Office suite, marketers at Microsoft (MSFT) are now shifting their attention to development tools.

The company today announced Visual Studio 97, formerly code-named Boston, a loosely knit single-package collection of the company's individual development tools. The first release of Visual Studio, due to ship by the end of March, will include Visual Basic 5.0, Visual C++ 5.0, Visual J++ 1.1, Visual FoxPro 5.0, and Visual InterDev 1.0, along with a common installer and Microsoft's Developer Network Library of product documentation.

Analysts said this first release of Visual Studio does not include much integration between products--a product direction discussed by Microsoft repeatedly over the past several years--but does lay the groundwork for future releases. "The advantage to buying Visual Studio over the individual products right now is the single install, and price, I suspect," said John Rymer, an analyst at Giga Information Group. "It's kind of a missionary product to get tools in front of a wide variety of developers, and to plant the seed that there is more to come. They did exactly the same thing with Office."

Microsoft is aiming Visual Studio at corporate developers building new Web or client/server applications, or extending existing client/server applications to the Web. The goal is to take the emphasis off of the choice of development language or tool, and onto solving development problems, said Michael Risse, a product manager at Microsoft.

With Visual Studio, developers can build ActiveX components using Visual C++ or Visual InterDev, for instance, and lash them together, using ActiveX technology, into a working application. The strategy parallels the company's efforts to make Office a single productivity application that blends the features of Word, Excel, and other desktop applications.

The company won't announce pricing until March, but analysts suspect the package will cost roughly one-third to half what it costs to buy the five development tools separately.

Future releases, which Risse said will debut over the course of the year, will include additional Microsoft technologies, which he did not disclose. "I suspect in a future version, you will see an object framework and, where it makes sense, will find a single IDE. I would imagine that Visual Studio will include the Microsoft repository (codeveloped with Texas Instruments) as a common repository," said Evan Quinn, an analyst with International Data Corp..

The package is expected to appeal to the core audience of Windows developers building applications with low- to mid-level complexity. Analysts don't expect Visual Studio to immediately threaten higher-end tool packages, such as those from Oracle and Powersoft, which target high-end developers.

"Oracle goes after large client-server developers. Microsoft is not up to that scale, but they will get there eventually," said Rymer. "Their enterprise strategy is interesting, but it will take many years to unfold. Microsoft is trying to allow Visual Basic guys to build larger apps and Internet apps, and are providing tools at a very low cost. If you look at the cost economics--they are wonderful. It's so cheap."