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An Awesome Set of Tools

An overview of Visual Studio 6.0

Visual Studio is Microsoft's high-value toolkit for developers. Since its release as Visual Studio 97, the product has incorporated most of the Microsoft developer tools, and developers often use several Microsoft development products to address different application development requirements. The latest release of Visual Studio 6.0 includes Visual Basic (VB), Visual C++, Visual FoxPro, Visual InterDev, Visual J++, Visual SourceSafe, and MSDN Library.The two versions of Visual Studio, Professional and Enterprise Edition, target different sizes of organizations. Both editions include the same development products. Enterprise Edition adds enterprise-level tools such as Visual Modeler 2.0, Visual Database Tools, Visual Component Manager 2.0, Microsoft Repository 2.0, Visual SourceSafe 6.0, Visual Studio Analyzer, SQL Server 6.5 Developer's Edition, and SNA Server 4.0.

The latest version of Visual Studio 6.0 contains application design and maintenance enhancements and improved database integration and Web development capabilities. In this article, I'll introduce the new enterprise tools in the Enterprise Edition of Visual Studio 6.0. Then I'll cover some significant enhancements in various Visual Studio development products.

Visual Studio's Enterprising New Tools

The application design process is the first step on the road to application development. Appropriately, Visual Studio's enterprise-level enhancements begin with the new Visual Modeler tool, which addresses the design phase of the product lifecycle. Rational Software, which produced the Rational Rose software design tool, developed Visual Modeler for Microsoft. Visual Modeler is a subset of the Rational Rose product. Falling in line with Microsoft's emphasis on the Digital Nervous System (DNS) concept and the accompanying three-tiered architecture, Visual Modeler lets developers design three-tiered applications. Screen 1 shows the new Visual Modeler.

A Visual Modeler application model consists of three views: the logical view, the component view, and the deployment view. The logical view describes each object that's used in the application and the relationships between objects. The component view describes the project's physical implementation. For example, the component view specifies how the application uses executable files and dynamic link libraries to execute. The deployment view shows how the developer distributes the application's objects among different networked systems. Visual Modeler uses Unified Modeling Language (UML) to store its design information. After you finish the modeling process, you can use Visual Modeler to generate either VB or Visual C++ source code for the model. The source code Visual Modeler generates is a skeleton that contains only the required object interface methods. You still need to write the application logic necessary to implement your application's requirements. The current release of Visual Modeler doesn't support generating Visual J++ code. In addition to generating code, the Visual Modeler can reverse-engineer VB and Visual C++ projects.

Another new enterprise-level feature that Visual Studio Enterprise Edition includes is the Visual Database Tools. You can use these tools in the Visual InterDev, Visual C++, VB, and Visual J++ Enterprise Edition development environments. The Visual Database Tools consist of four primary parts: the Data View, the Database Designer, the Query Designer, and the Source Code Editor. The Data View provides a graphical interface you can use to add database connections to your development project. Then you can use these database connections as you would other objects in your application. The Database Designer is a graphical tool you can use to create and modify the structure of SQL Server and Oracle databases. A long-overdue feature that you'll find in the Database Designer is the ability to print the database schema. The Query Designer provides a graphical user interface that lets you visually build and execute database queries. The Query Designer works with the Data Views, and you can incorporate the resulting query objects into your database applications. The Source Code Editor is a color-coded editor you can use to build and debug SQL Server stored procedures and triggers.

You don't use a menu option to start the Visual Database Tools. If you create a database project in VB, Visual InterDev, Visual C++, or Visual J++, Visual Database Tools runs. Screen 2 shows the new Data View and Query Designer components of the Visual Database Tools running from Visual InterDev.

The Query Designer lets you build simple and complex queries even if you're not an SQL expert. If you add a Query object to an existing data connection, the Query Designer runs. You build queries by dropping tables from the Data View to the upper portion of the Query Designer. You check columns in the upper portion of the window to add columns to the design grid and build the required SQL statement, which you can see in the middle of the window. You can add criteria to the design grid to limit the number of selected records. The query results appear in the lower portion of the window. After you define the Query object, you can use it in your database applications.

Another feature in the Visual Studio Enterprise Edition that's aimed squarely at corporate developers is the Application Performance Explorer, which lets you evaluate the performance of different implementation scenarios. Designing and distributing a three-tiered application is different from building a two-tiered application. The Application Performance Explorer lets you test different deployment options in your network environment. Screen 3, page 30, shows the Application Performance Explorer.

You can use different profiles with the Application Performance Monitor to set up multiple test conditions and track the test results. You can configure the Application Performance Monitor to work with multiple clients and multiple servers. And you can set up the Application Performance Monitor to test distributed COM scenarios and different database access methods and servers. When you set up a profile, you can choose ODBC API, DAO, RDO, or ADO database access tools. You can also choose whether to test against a local Access database or a remote SQL Server database.

Other enhanced tools in Visual Studio 6.0 are Microsoft Repository, which now includes version management for objects, and the new Visual Component Manager, a tool for storing and locating reusable components and source code that uses SQL Server as its data store. (For more information, see Ken Spencer's "Manage Code Libraries and Objects with Visual Component Manager," page 32.) In addition, the new version of Visual Studio includes OLE DB support and the ADO 2.0 data-access object layer.

Web-Wise Development

The product that's received the biggest boost from its previous release is Visual InterDev 6.0. Visual InterDev now includes the new Data View, which comes with the Visual Database Tools, and a set of data-bound design-time controls that work with the Data View feature (for more information on design-time controls, see Ken Miller's Web Dev column, page 57). These data-bound controls let you visually design Web pages by dragging controls from the ToolBox to the Web Design window. Screen 4, page 30, shows the Visual InterDev visual design environment.

In addition to the graphical design environment, Visual InterDev includes a Source View, which lets you enter and edit htm and Active Server Pages (ASP) code, and a Quick View window, which lets you preview the pages. (For more information, see Ken Spencer's "Using Data Connections with SQL Server and Visual InterDev 6.0," page 37.) Other important new features of Visual InterDev 6.0 are a site designer, which lets you quickly prototype and build Web sites; IntelliSense automatic statement completion; Dynamic htm (Dhtm) support; and support for team development.

VB 6.0 emphasizes data access and Web building. The VB 6.0 interface is the same as that of the 5.0 release, but VB 6.0 contains the new Visual Database Tools and its Data View and Data Query capabilities. VB 6.0 includes Crystal Reports and a new graphical Data Report Designer, which works with the Data View to help you build reports that access ODBC- or OLE DB-compliant databases. Like most other Visual Studio products, VB features significant Internet-related enhancements. Support for Internet Information Server (IIS) and Dhtm applications lets VB developers join the Web development fray. IIS applications let developers write server-side VB applications that service requests from Web clients. In contrast, in browser-based Dhtm applications, VB code responds to events on an htm page without needing to access the Web server. Other important VB 6.0 features are the ability to create data sources and new controls including the Coolbar and Hierarchical FlexGrid controls.

Microsoft hasn't changed the Visual C++ development environment much from the previous releases except to add IntelliSense, the automatic code completion feature first released in VB 5.0, and the Edit and Continue feature. The Edit and Continue feature lets Visual C++ developers share the instant productivity that VB developers have long enjoyed. If developers use the Edit and Continue feature when changing source code during a debugging session, the feature will instantly incorporate the changes into the program. When the debugging session ends, the Edit and Continue feature relinks the changes.

Of all the Visual Studio products besides Visual InterDev, Microsoft most enhanced the Visual J++ product. The big news is that Microsoft added the Windows Foundation Class (WFC) application framework. The WFC provides Visual J++ applications full access to the Win32 API, which lets them leverage the Windows platform. The Visual J++ editor supports the new IntelliSense feature. The new Visual J++ also jumps on the COM bandwagon by supporting creation of ActiveX-control and other COM objects. This support isn't surprising considering that Visual J++ is Microsoft's version of Java. Microsoft also provides a new Object Browser in Visual J++ to complement COM support.

Only Visual SourceSafe and Visual FoxPro remain relatively static in the new Visual Studio release. Visual SourceSafe now provides archive and restore options from its user interface and offers some performance improvements. You can now use Visual FoxPro 6.0 to develop active documents, and Visual FoxPro applications now support OLE drag-and-drop operations.

Still the Same: Individual Environments

One thing hasn't changed in the new release: All the Visual Studio 6.0 components still have their own individual development environments. However, Microsoft plans to merge the development environments into one similar to that of the new Visual InterDev product.

A change Microsoft introduced for the worse is adoption of htm Help throughout the product. The new htm Help system offers no advantages over the previous WinHelp implementation. You might get garbled results by cutting and pasting from the Help files, and the htm Help occasionally fails to find linked Help topics.

You Can Build It

Visual Studio 6.0 is the best of breed among current Windows development products. It provides a powerful development platform that you can use to develop standard standalone Windows applications, Web-based applications, three-tiered enterprise-level applications, and more. The Visual Studio bundle gives you all of the Microsoft development products including the BackOffice Developer's Edition—a formidable set of development tools.

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