Microsoft to launch development tool next week

Microsoft next Wednesday will launch its long-awaited Visual Studio .Net development tool, which aims to make it easier for developers to build Web services and Web-based applications.

But corporate developers aren't expected to make an instant switch to the new development environment. They're being advised by some analysts to take a gradual approach with existing applications, migrating only if there will be a clear benefit, and to take a cautious approach with new applications, trying non-mission-critical applications before they take on major projects.

"If you're talking about a high-profile, fairly complex application, you probably would be best served to stick with what you know," said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc. He said Meta advises clients to take a subset of their existing applications and bring them into the .Net environment only if there's a compelling reason to move them.

Users, for instance, might want to move a Web application to Visual Studio.Net to gain the benefits of the improved architecture, performance and scalability of Microsoft's new Active Server Pages .Net technology. But they probably wouldn't want to rewrite a Visual Basic client/server application in Visual Studio .Net, Murphy cautioned. "Your ROI is going to be fairly low," he said.

Murphy suggested that users try to run a few of their existing applications in the new development environment to get an idea of the number of lines of code that need to be fixed.

But some users said they won't be in a rush. Neville Teagarden, CIO at Navigant International Inc., a travel management company in Englewood, Colo., said his firm didn't use the beta version of Visual Studio .Net and doesn't have a strong business reason to use the new tool.

"The current crop of tools is meeting our customer requirements," Teagarden said. He said his company will probably start working with the tool in the first quarter and potentially deliver initial applications by year's end that take advantage of the Web services model, with its standard interfaces, to modularize and integrate services more quickly.

Navigant's deployment time frame, however, could be affected by the "robustness of the security model and the scalability of the platform," Teagarden said.

Don Cherry, director of product development at Seattle-based Capital Stream Inc., which builds and hosts Web applications for financial institutions, said his firm is evaluating Visual Studio .Net while cognizant of the architecture changes a migration would mean.

"We're not a really large shop, and so obviously, an undertaking like the adoption of Visual Studio .Net is something we have to carefully balance," said Cherry. "Any strategy we adopt will be an incremental approach. We obviously can't go dark for nine months and rewrite the site."

Chuck Grindel, a software engineer at Boston-based NaviMedix Inc., a provider of online applications to connect physician offices and hospitals with their health care partners, said he thinks his firm will move to Visual Studio .Net some day, but not anytime soon. "Frankly, we're too busy to migrate to that right now," he said.

Grindel said he doesn't see "anything real compelling at this point" in the new tool. He's personally interested in Visual Studio .Net's ability to let developers work in 26 different languages as long as they run the applications through Microsoft's Common Language Runtime, he said. But from a management standpoint, he can't see a company letting its developers work on the same code base in different languages. "Maintainability of components becomes a lot more difficult," Grindel said. "If somebody left, you would have less flexibility. ... And if I needed to take a programmer to help out on another project, I might be hindered if they don't know the language of the other project."

Peter Urban, an analyst at Boston-based AMR Research Inc., said there's a learning curve to move from Visual Basic to Visual Basic.Net, even though Visual Studio .Net will help with code generation for developers moving to Web services.

Evan Quinn, an analyst at Hurwitz Group Inc. in Framingham, Mass., predicted that IT won't shift to Visual Studio .Net for a couple of years, "despite the fact that it's upwardly compatible with previous versions of Visual Studio."

"For those organizations who have made that commitment to the Microsoft platform and have curiosity about Web services, they will certainly go to Visual Studio .Net as their first option," Quinn said.

Murphy said he thinks many firms will run mixed environments, developing applications in both the Microsoft and Java environments. Murphy foresees Visual Studio .Net being used to build clients, department-level applications and Internet-based applications, with Java the choice for business frameworks and components that need to run on different operating systems.

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