Microsoft recently announced a new API for Visual Studio Online (VS Online) at the company's TechEd 2014 North America conference in Houston. According to Brian Harry, corporate vice president at Microsoft, the driving factor behind the creation of the new API is to make it "easier to integrate VS Online with other web based tools and to access VS Online from any mobile device."
Interestingly, Microsoft also made it seem like it was working toward a place where custom tools could also be integrated with VS Online. The idea to integrate custom tools with Visual Studio is something that immediately stood out to me. The Visual Studio platform has a swath of tools that can aid in developer productivity and usefulness. However, I've had conversations with some developers who are unable to utilize Visual Studio to its full potential due to the requirements of the business.
My fiancé's situation at his company is a great example of this. He works as a developer building financial charts and websites for large conglomerates. Because what his organization does is so specialized due to the requirements for keeping financial data secure and protected, the organization has spent a great deal of time developing its own set of tools that fits those security requirements. And although that company does rely on the Visual Studio IDE for much of its development, there's still other in-house tools that the company relies on for different parts of the development process. With that said, I think it's great that Microsoft is addressing this common situation that many organizations face by making VS Online more accessible.
During my interview with Brian Harry, I asked him to elaborate on how Microsoft is working toward this ideal. According to Harry, Microsoft is working to integrate Visual Studio Online with some of the most popular third-party commercial applications. One of those applications that helps achieve this is Zapier, which serves as a link to connect to over 200 third-party applications.
Addressing the needs for organizations that rely on internal tools, Harry stated that the REST APIs help enable VS Online integration in a "very clean way." Because REST is technology agnostic, it can easily run custom tools on any operating system or device, because every platform supports REST very well. "It's a great reach solution—wherever you need to access it from, you can," Harry explained.
Harry also noted that Microsoft has developed a very good SDK that is very easy for developers to reference and use. In a recent blog post, Harry demonstrated how easy it is to get started using the APIs directly in your browser. For example, you can navigate into your preferred browser of choice, type the REST API for a particular work item, and a JSON document will be generated that shows the contents of that work item. "It's incredibly easy to get and then every environment makes it easy to parse and manipulate JSON… Being able to integrate that into your custom tools is really easy," Harry explained.
The new API for VS Online is currently in preview, where Microsoft is shipping VS Online every three weeks. Although Harry couldn't confirm a precise timeline going forward, he did predict that a V1 release might make an appearance within the next few months. With that said, that's entirely dependent on the feedback that Microsoft receives from its developer community. Regarding an on-premises release, Harry said that it will be included in the next significant release for Team Foundation Server, but there's currently too many variables to pin-point a specific date for that release.