Microsoft collaboration server to ship this month

Microsoft's impending delivery of its Visual Studio 2005 Team Foundation Server is the culmination of seven years of planning the company's entrance into the ALM (application lifecycle management) space.

Serving as a data warehouse and collaboration hub, Team Foundation Server complements Microsoft's already shipping Visual Studio 2005 Team System client components for ALM. Team Foundation Server ships later this month. Microsoft's Rick LaPlante, general manager of the company's Visual Studio Team System group, is expected to discuss the product on March 16 at the SD West 2006 conference in Santa Clara, Calif.

Team Foundation Server reports on static analysis of code, tracks the software build process, and furnishes a history of software engineering efforts. It is considered crucial to Microsoft's ALM platform.

"The unique thing there is it is a data warehouse. We've never had one of those before," LaPlante said in an interview on Friday.

The genesis of Microsoft's ALM platform began in 1999, when LaPlante met with Bill Gates, currently Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, and Steve Ballmer, now serving as CEO, to talk about enterprise software development.

"I sat down with Bill and Steve and said we need to be in this business," LaPlante said.

"It was important because customers were failing," with their development projects, LaPlante said.

The executives noted that very few enterprise software projects involve developers only. LaPlante said that he advised a mass-market approach and one that reaches multiple roles in the development process. Ease of use and having a toolset that worked together also were priorities.

"We wanted to build a set of tools that the developers, the testers, the architects would want to use, and you go and put the process around it," LaPlante said. The company was not sold on Rational's ALM tools, characterizing them as aged, according to LaPlante.

But why has it taken Microsoft so long to deliver its ALM platform?

"The answer is we were committed to being in this space, but how to get into this space was [the subject of] a very long set of discussions and the discussions [were], as you can imagine, around build vs. buy," LaPlante said.

Microsoft considered a build-it-in-house or partnering approach, weighing technologies from companies such as Mercury Interactive.

"We looked at all of these companies. We looked at a lot of companies and said we believe the only way you're going to fundamentally change this space is by being easy to use, by being integrated and supporting this notion of a dynamic process. No one had that," LaPlante said.

In about 2001 or 2002, the company decided it would build in-house, LaPlante said.

Recently, a Borland official criticized Microsoft's Team System approach as too Windows-centric. LaPlante said the Team System clients are Windows-focused, but Team Foundation Server can store other types of code such as Java or PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor) code.

An early user of Team Foundation Server has high hopes for the product.

"Our impression is that Team Foundation Server along with Visual Studio 2005 work in a very integrated manner. What it allows us to do is make each role within a project work in an integrated way," said Shami Dugal, branch manager of the Texas division at Salem Associates, which builds custom applications.

"Customers are all working collectively in one development environment," Dugal said. He added that his experience with the product was limited thus far.

Microsoft recently nixed an Internet access feature for the first edition of Team Foundation Server shipping this month, something that would appear to be critical for a product focused on collaboration. Internet access will be limited in the initial release, but a fix is on the drawing board, LaPlante said. "Yes, we need to fix that," he added. The first edition will support VPN-based collaboration, however.

Other plans for Microsoft's ALM platform involve developing more role-based products for roles such as database analysts. Also being eyed are enhancements to better enable Internet-based hosting of the ALM platform, such as improvements for designating CPU access limitations. With these improvements, a third party could host the platform.

LaPlante also commented on the planned next major release of Visual Studio, code-named, "Orcas." It will focus on accommodating features in the planned Microsoft Vista OS and Office 12. Support of the WinFX managed APIs, which are part of Vista, is key. WinFX features the Windows Presentation Foundation presentation subsystem, formerly known as "Avalon;" the Windows Communication Foundation Web services platform, formerly "Indigo," and Windows Workflow Foundation, for building workflow-enabled applications. Vista is expected to be released by the end of 2006.

"We're going to publish specifications [for Orcas] before we build it. It's the first time we've ever done this," LaPlante said. Specifications would be released prior to developing any Community Technologies Previews of Orcas to make it easier for Microsoft to include any developer suggestions.

Orcas specifications are expected to be available in the next four or five months.

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