ASP.NET VERSIONS: 2.0
Catch the Express
An Overview of the Visual Studio Express Edition Products
By Vikram Srivatsa
The .NET Framework v2.0 is fast approaching its final release. (The release date has officially been set for the week of November 7th, 2005.) Along with the mainstream developer tools that target professional developers, such as Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft will be releasing a parallel suite of developer tools aimed at the amateur, or hobbyist. These tools will be shipped under the Express banner.
This article provides an overview of the Express Edition product line, which includes tools for developing Web and Windows applications, as well as a free database (see Figure 1).
Figure 1: The Visual Studio Express Edition products.
The Express Edition Products
Microsoft has expanded the Visual Studio product line to include a new set of products titled Express Editions. The Express Edition products provide a lightweight, entry-level toolset, and are intended for use by hobbyists, novice developers, and students (Microsoft places these individuals under the category of non-professional users). Professional developers would continue to use the mainstream product, Visual Studio 2005. Additionally during the beta lifecycle of v2.0 of the .NET Framework, the Express products serve as a means for enthusiast developers to get hands-on experience with the next version of the .NET Framework without having an MSDN subscription. If you are a developer and have not been able to test drive the Beta Visual Studio tools because you don t have access to an MSDN subscription, the easiest way would be to download the free beta copies of the Express Editions.
Express Edition products are also being used by Microsoft to attract the so-called LAMP developers to the Microsoft Platform. LAMP developers are those who develop applications based on Linux, Apache Web Server, mySQL Database, and PHP, Perl, or Python.
Microsoft used the Express tagline earlier to differentiate between full editions and lightweight editions of products. For example, with Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Outlook Express, where Outlook Express served as a lightweight edition of the full-fledged Microsoft Outlook. However, that s where the similarity ends. The Express Edition products will not be available as freeware, except for SQL Server 2005 Express. SQL Server 2005 Express will be free to use and redistribute; the rest of the Express Edition products will be priced at US$49 each, when released.
Referring to Figure 1, we can see that Visual Web Developer 2005 Express serves as a tool for Web applications, while SQL Server 2005 Express serves as a database. There are four products that a novice/hobbyist can choose from based on language preference when building Windows applications.
Visual Web Developer 2005 Express: Build Web Applications without IIS!
Visual Web Developer Express can be used to build Web-based applications on ASP.NET 2.0 and to build Web applications and Web services. The tool offers support for three languages: Visual Basic, C#, and J#.
One of the biggest advantages of using this tool is that the dependency on Internet Information Services (IIS) as a Web server for building and testing applications is eliminated. This is achieved by including an upgraded version of the Cassini Web server, which started as a sample Web server. This means that a hobbyist can build and test applications using Visual Web Developer Express on a local machine that does not have IIS installed, then deploy it to a machine that has IIS. However, IIS is still required to deploy a Web site built with Visual Web Developer Express.
The user interface of Visual Web Developer Express is similar to the mainstream Visual Studio 2005, but without some of the Visual Studio 2005 features. Figure 2 shows the Visual Web Developer Express environment.
Figure 2: The Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition IDE.
Another important feature to note is that the Project and Solution files created with Visual Web Developer Express or the Express products can be imported into Visual Studio 2005. This means that at any point it would be feasible to upgrade/move to the professional or enterprise version of Visual Studio 2005.
In the next section, we ll take a look at SQL Server 2005 Express, which serves as a free lightweight database.
SQL Server 2005 Express: A Replacement for MSDE
SQL Server 2005 Express is being built as a replacement for MSDE. SQL Server 2005 Express is free to use and redistribute and is built on the SQL Server 2005 core engine. It offers many of the commercial SQL Server 2005 features, such as views, triggers, and cursors.
Because Microsoft includes the same core database engine as the mainstream SQL Server Database, it becomes necessary to impose certain limitations on the lightweight product. This was achieved by means of a workload governor in the case of MSDE, where performance is limited based on various usage and load scenarios. In the case of SQL Express 2005, the workload governor is removed and there is a fixed cut-off based on CPU, RAM, and the database.
SQL Server Express 2005 supports up to 1GB of RAM and a single processor, even if used on multiple-processor-based systems. The database can be up to 4GB in size. Figure 3 summarizes the limitations.
Figure 3: SQL Server 2005 Express limitations.
SQL Server 2005 Express supports the creation of multiple instances on the same machine. In fact, this limitation has been compared to MSDE. In SQL Server Express 2005 you can have 50 instances on the same machine; MSDE supports only 16 instances. Furthermore, the Express Edition fully supports the CLR Integration of SQL Server 2005 and includes native XML Data type and XQuery Support. SQL Express also supports many of the new features, such as snapshot isolation and extended indexes.
Microsoft is also offering a GUI-based tool called Express Manager (XM) for administering the database. This is a lightweight version of the SQL Server Management Studio. The Express Manager can be used to perform most of the tasks that a novice user would need. Figure 4 shows the Express Manager. The Express Manager also includes a query editor, where developers can write and execute queries.
Figure 4: SQL Express Manager UI.
Another important feature to consider from the perspective of a developer is API support. The APIs exposed by the Express Edition and the mainstream product are identical, and the user can migrate at any time from Express Edition to the full-fledged product. SQL Server Express can be accessed from .NET 1.1 and Visual Basic 6.0 applications, as well.
Some of the features not included in SQL Server Express 2005 are SQL Agent and Data Transformation Services (DTS) which is now called SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) in the newer version. Although there is no native 64-bit support, if installed on a 64-bit machine, SQL Server 2005 Express would run using the WOW execution layer. Click here for a complete feature comparison between the different editions of SQL Server 2005.
The April CTP of the SQL Server 2005 Express comes with a Go Live! License, which means you can start using SQL Server 2005 Express in your applications today!
The rest of the other products are mainly based on languages, so we ll look at only Visual C# 2005 Express in the next section. Developers having a preference for a different language can choose a different tool based on their language preference.
Visual C# 2005 Express
The Visual C# 2005 Express is a tool that can be used for developing Windows applications. It offers many of the features offered by the mainstream product, such as Edit and Continue, Debugger Visualizers, Code Snippets, and refactoring. Figure 5 shows the Visual C# 2005 Express environment.
Figure 5: The Visual C# 2005 Express Edition IDE.
The Visual C# Express Edition does not support plug-ins or compilation for 64-bit platforms. Additional tools such as Class Designer, Object Test Bench, Code profiling tools, and static analysis tools, which are part of the full product, are not included in the Express Edition. A more detailed comparison can be found here.
All the Express Edition products include documentation and simple tutorials to help beginners get started. They also include starter kits, which are samples to aid a novice in learning. There is a lightweight edition of MSDN entitled MSDN Express, which is installed with the Express products.
Downloading the Express Products
Beta 2 of the Express Edition products have been released and are available for anyone to download:
- Microsoft Visual Web Developer 2005 Express
- Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express
- Microsoft Visual C# 2005 Express
- Microsoft Visual Basic 2005 Express
- Microsoft Visual J# 2005 Express
- Microsoft Visual C++ 2005 Express
NOTE: The .NET Framework v2.0 and the Express Edition products are still Beta software and there will be a certain amount of risk in installing this software. Based on my experience I strongly recommend installing these products on Microsoft Virtual PC.
This article provides an overview of the new Express Edition products from Microsoft, which are aimed at the hobbyist and amateur developer. The Express Editions provide a cost-effective solution for amateur developers who do not require all the features of the fully fledged Visual Studio 2005 product.
Vikram Srivatsa is a senior software engineer working with Hewlett-Packard GDIC in Bangalore, India, and has been a key developer on various development projects for the Microsoft Technology Practice in the company. He has been associated with the .NET Framework since the Beta stages of version 1.0. Vikram is an MCSD in .NET and a Sun Certified Java Programmer. His other qualifications include an engineering degree in Computer Science.