VSLive 2006: Microsoft debuts 'team growth' tools

Collaborative, secure and flexible application development -- was a key motif at VSLive! 2006, the four-day Microsoft developer conference being held in Toronto this week.

On Tuesday -- the second day of the conference -- this theme was again in sharp focus as Microsoft execs announced a bunch of tools they say fosters a development methodology based on collaboration.

Enhanced support for team-based development, they said, is also the raison d'etre for the recent expansion of Visual Studio (Microsoft's suite of development tools) to Visual Studio Team System. There's more to it than branding, according to Jeff Zado, senior product manager, development tools at Microsoft Canada.

Team System, he said, "greatly extends the core Visual Studio suite" with new tools for everyone involved in the development lifecycle: project managers, developers, testers, architects et al.

For developers already using Team System, Zado announced the availability of Visual Studio Team Foundation Server. As its name suggests, this is a server-based tool that integrates critical aspects of software development -- such as version control, work item tracking, and reporting.

Team Foundation Server is available for download for those with Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscriptions, and will be generally available for purchase on May 1.

Data residing in Team Foundation Server can be accessed within Microsoft Office applications such as Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Project.

This capability is vital, said Zado, as "team development" involves not just software architects or developers but many others, who, typically, would not use Visual Studio as their work environment -- persons such as project managers or business analysts.

A demo of how Team Foundation Server data can be accessed within various commonOffice apps was provided by Jerome Carron, a senior developer with Microsoft Canada.

For instance, Carron showed how such data can be pulled into an Excel spreadsheet in the form of "cubes of information" that can be analyzed. This capability, he said, would benefit -- not just developers -- but also project mangers, who are able to review all work items at a glance, drill down into specific information (such as which tasks are still active and which are complete), and then initiate necessary action.

Similarly, he said, Microsoft Project can also be integrated with Team Foundation Server. "Relevant data is pulled from Team Foundation Server into Project; the project manager can take a look at what's going on in the project, what needs to be done -- and directly from within the tool reassign work to relevant people." It's possible to set things up so the person reassigned a specific task automatically gets an e-mail notification, he said.

A free workgroup edition (limited to five users) of Team Foundation Server can be downloaded now by anyone with Visual Studio Team edition.

In addition to Team Foundation Server, Zado also announced the availability of BizTalk Server 2006 and SQL Server Everywhere Edition. BizTalk, he said, helps with consolidation and integration. "It allows you to integrate people and processes in different applications. If you need to take data from SAP, PeopleSoft or home grown apps and integrate all that together, BizTalk is a great mechanism to do that."

The Microsoft exec said the rapid consolidation happening in many industries poses huge challenges as well as opportunities for developers. "Each organization has its own IT infrastructure, own set of apps and databases. But customers (of a financial institution, for instance) just want one integrated, seamless portal from where they can get access to their mortgage, investments, bank accounts and any other services."

The challenge for developers, he said, is to integrate disparate elements quickly. "Service oriented architectures (SOA) simply that process." (A show of hands done among the developers present indicated about a third of them were either actively deploying or had deployed Web services and/or SOA). Zado said BizTalk is one of Microsoft's principle offerings to support such integration. "A lot of free connectors are included with BizTalk Server 2006."

Yet another announcement related to the availability of SQL Server Anywhere edition. This new edition of SQL server, said Zado, is a "great tool" if you're looking to create embedded mobile solutions. It allows you to "automatically synchronize data and connect back to your databases -- ensuring you have access to the data the way you want, on the devices you want and anywhere you are."

The release to manufacturing (RTM) of SQL Anywhere is slated for the second half of this year.

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