Visual Studio.NET 2003 no radical departure from predecessor

Microsoft’s flagship software development suite -- Visual Studio.NET -- has now been updated and enhanced with a new version, 2003.

This suite of software development tools targets the .NET platform. .NET is the fusion of Windows and Web-based technologies, with rich in-built support for memory management, database connectivity, and wireless and palm-held devices.

Visual Studio.NET 2003 is a beefy product, but existing Visual Studio.NET developers may not find the enhancements either special or necessary. They consist primarily of additions to the development environment and to the underlying .NET framework to cater for mobile devices in a way that is consistent with the current facilities for Web Services.

The biggest single change from the original Visual Studio.NET is the inclusion of a whole new language, namely the Java-like J#. The other languages (Visual Basic, C# and Visual C++) have not been given any new keywords or changes. However, Microsoft announced at Tech-Ed in August that revamping the languages would be the major focus of the next Visual Studio.NET release, presently planned for 2005.

J# offers Windows applications, Web applications, console applications and Windows services just like the other languages. This provides a comfortable and familiar fully-featured environment for Java programmers who wish to migrate to .NET.

Projects developed in Microsoft’s former J++ product can be opened in J#, bringing up a conversion wizard which automates the bulk of the effort in migrating to .NET. However, low-level Java class libraries considered proprietary to the Java standard cannot be converted to .NET.

The next most significant enhancement is the updating of the .NET framework, which provides all the real functionality of .NET. Its libraries are used by the .NET languages to achieve results. New features in the .NET framework immediately mean new features for programmers, no matter which .NET language is being used.

A new inclusion is ASP.NET Mobile Controls, which provide functionality for mobile (wireless) devices such as mobile phones and handheld PDAs. This means that writing sites for mobile devices is now no more complex than writing ASP Web sites or even Windows-based applications -- it just comes down to which project type is used when creating the application!

The coolest part is that ASP.NET Mobile Controls extend ASP.NET server controls such that they adapt to the mobile device on which the Web application is rendering. This means that the mobile controls conform to the capabilities of individual devices, via browser detection, irrespective of whether the target device is a fully-featured PDA browser or a small 5-line by 20-character mobile phone display.

The boon to programmers cannot be underestimated: just the one site need be coded, without having to make any device-specific considerations whatsoever.

Another big addition is increased flexibility in working with diverse database systems such as Oracle and ODBC. The .NET data-aware components (such as datagrid) work equally well with any data provider, meaning applications can be migrated from Access through to SQL Server or Oracle with no change to the fundamental program logic.

The third big change to the .NET framework is support for the emerging IPv6 protocol. IPv6 is natively handled by ASP.NET and XML Web Services.

The Verdict

Visual Studio.NET 2003 is a solid and high-quality development suite for writing fully-featured Windows applications. Those new to .NET, or programming in general, will find it an excellent platform. However, existing Visual Studio.NET programmers may find that, depending on their needs, there is nothing new for them. As far as upgrades go, it delivers some new, great toys, but nothing radically different, leaving the original Visual Studio.NET still a relevant tool.


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