Visual Studio Express Editions: Fuel for the Inner Nerd?

Aside from my ongoing Web-development work, I left behind the software-development world several years ago, after having participated in a few software-development projects and written several books, including titles on Visual Basic (VB) 3.0 through VB 6.0 and Borland Delphi. I still keep tabs on the software-development world, however, and this year things are going to get interesting with the long-awaited release of Visual Studio 2005 the week of November 7, 2005.

These days, I pity the Windows software developer. As I noted in "It's All About the Developers" (see the first URL below), the number of Windows and Windows-related development technologies is legion and continually growing. Today, it's difficult to select the correct technologies for your projects. Your decision depends not just on which technologies are right for the job but also on which will be around and improved in a few years and not simply orphaned.

With Visual Studio 2005, Microsoft has succumbed to what I call "editionitis," whereby the company has taken a previously small and easily understood group of products and expanded it into a much wider range of products, often with overlapping capabilities but always targeting select niche markets. The Microsoft Office team has honed this strategy to perfection, and, apparently, Microsoft feels it can use the strategy with the rest of its products. The idea is to maximize the revenue potential for a given generation of software.

With Visual Studio .NET 2003, life was simple. Visual Studio .NET 2003 provided standalone versions of VB, Visual C#, Visual C++, and Visual J# (and a related single-user version of Microsoft SQL Server called Microsoft SQL Server Desktop Engine--MSDE), and professional, enterprise, and enterprise architect editions of the Visual Studio suite. These products built off each other, and Visual Studio Enterprise Edition was a true superset of Visual Studio Professional Edition. Simple.

With Visual Studio 2005, you have more choices to make. On the high-end, there are three new Visual Studio Team System editions (Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Architects, Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Developers, and Visual Studio Team Edition for Software Testers) and Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, which all focus on enterprise developers, testers, architects, and team collaboration. There are professional and standard editions of Visual Studio 2005 as well as the new Visual Studio Express editions, which include inexpensive single-user versions of VB 2005, Visual C# 2005, Visual C++ 2005, Visual J# 2005, Visual Web Developer 2005 (an update, of sorts, to the previously orphaned Visual InterDev products), and SQL Server 2005 (the latter of which replaces MSDE and will be free).

Yikes. To better understand what Microsoft is doing with Visual Studio 2005, I recently attended a Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 reviewers workshop at the Microsoft campus, along with several other Windows IT Pro magazine representatives. Although much of what was discussed is still covered by a nondisclosure agreement (NDA), this week I examine the Visual Studio 2005 Express editions, which are publicly available in beta form from the Microsoft Web site (See the second URL below). And I promise not to divulge which staff member sat through the same Microsoft BizTalk Server session twice in a row. For a small fee.

Although Microsoft somewhat deridingly describes the Visual Studio Express editions as targeting the "my-first-program" crowd, I'm more interested in its low-end machinations than its high-end power grab with the Visual Studio Team System editions. When Microsoft moved to .NET with the initial version of Visual Studio .NET, it consciously left behind a large part of the market that had made its development tools successful--enthusiasts, students, and other individual developers. Key among these users were VB 6.0 users, who bristled at the thought of leaving behind their comfortable (if aged) BASIC language syntax to move into the more complicated but more capable world of .NET.

So although VB 2005 Express Edition won't fully heal the wounds of VB 6.0 users (indeed, you need Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition to get any VB 6.0 upgrade help), it does address the cost concerns of the low end of the market. (And for what its worth, REAL Software's REALbasic is likely a better upgrade for most VB 6.0 users anyway. See the "Transitions" URL below).

For the record, Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition is awesome. I've switched from the editor in Microsoft FrontPage 2005 to this product for my own Web-development projects and am happy to once again be ensconced in the warm and capable hands of Microsoft's best code editor. Visual Web Developer 2005 Express has two huge improvements over FrontPage: First, you can expand and contract code segments, leaving open only the parts of the code you need to work on. Second, you don't need a Microsoft IIS Web server to create a Web site. Yes, Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition works with IIS, FTP, and Windows SharePoint Services sites, but it can also create a full-featured Web site from an empty Web folder. Finally.

The express editions include virtually all the language and productivity improvements that Microsoft has made to the various Visual Studio 2005 products, and they include tremendous starter kits, which are full-featured application projects you can build yourself. The big deal here, from what I can see, is that the express products could rejuvenate Visual Studio excitement in educational institutions, where the allure of free software-development tools is most palpable.

So what's missing in the express editions? You can't access remote data; these versions use only a locally installed data source (including the free SQL Server 2005 Express Edition). There are no mobile-device-development features in VB Express, Visual C# Express, or Visual C++ Express; you must upgrade to Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition to get those features. All the high-end features from the Visual Studio Team System editions are missing, of course, including application and code modeling, unit testing, static code analysis, and the like.

As for the full-blown versions of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005, which Microsoft will release simultaneously with the express editions in November, I can say this: Microsoft is pushing the fact that it codeveloped these products and therefore they'll work better together (much like Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 and Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 were codeveloped). This integrated approach is laudable but could prove costly for adopters. But then editionitis is all part of Microsoft's strategy to maximize the earning potential of its products. It makes sense for Microsoft. Whether it makes sense for customers remains to be seen.

Notebook Reviews: The Readers Have Spoken
Regarding my note last week about moving notebook reviews to the SuperSite for Windows, I did receive a lot of responses (thanks for that), which were overwhelmingly in favor of me continuing the reviews, but moving them to the SuperSite, where I can include photos and more in-depth information. I'll start work on that immediately and will notify readers here in Windows IT Pro UPDATE when I post new reviews. Thanks!

It's All About the Developers

Visual Studio Express Editions (Microsoft)


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