DevConnections Talks with Microsoft .NET Developer VP Scott Guthrie

Microsoft's .NET and Visual Studio leader offers insights on upcoming releases, ASP.NET developer challenges, Silverlight, and more

Sheila Molnar, executive editor of DevConnections, met with Scott Guthrie, the corporate vice president of Microsoft's .NET Developer Platform, a few weeks before his keynote address at the DevConnections conference in November. Scott runs the development teams at Microsoft responsible for delivering Visual Studio developer tools and .NET Framework technologies for building client and web applications. The conversation ranged over a wide number of topics, including Microsoft's impending major releases of Visual Studio 2010 and .NET Framework 4.0, what Scott planned to share with developers at his keynote, and the launch of DevConnections magazine—and more.

Scott Guthrie: I'm excited to see the magazine grow, and it's great that developers will be able to get information about ASP.NET and Visual Studio as well as other parts of .NET Framework. I'm excited to see the magazine go in that direction.

Sheila Molnar: Thanks. Can you give us a look at what you'll be covering in your DevConnections conference keynote?

SG: I'll cover exciting developments in the ASP.NET 4.0 release as well as Visual Studio 2010. There's a bunch of new features across the board in Visual Studio. There are tons of improvements in the IDE, such as multiple monitor support; JavaScript IntelliSense is much better; code editing is much better; there are a bunch of great language improvements in both VB and C#. And then within ASP.NET itself there are a tremendous number of improvements for both our Web Forms programming model as well as our model view controller (MVC)–based options. My plan is to do a lot of demos that show off some of these exciting new features and keep people excited about it.

SM: What do you see as the challenges that professional ASP.NET developers face?

SG: One of the challenges that all developers face—and this has been true forever, but I feel it becomes more true every year: How do you build great applications and great solutions that meet your customer needs; that are delivered quickly and delivered with high quality. Those are timeless issues that face developers. What we're seeing with the web and what we're seeing with development methodologies is continual improvement in how we deliver those. But we also see customer expectations continue to get higher and higher. So it's this constant battle of how do I continue to delight my customer and how do I push the edge of the envelope in terms of features? How do I deliver it cost-effectively, fast, and with great quality? And that's where I see frameworks such as .NET and development tools such as Visual Studio can really help in terms of guiding people down that path.

SM: What are skills ASP.NET developers need to hone to stay ahead of the pack?

SG: I think there are a couple of things: Obviously for web development in general there's awareness and knowledge about HTML, CSS, JavaScript, server-side programming languages, and the data access API. So there's a basic set of skills there. Somebody said that we need as developers to continually improve how we talk to our customers, how we get feedback and iterate on our designs, and then how we deliver software with the highest possible quality. There's a bunch of soft skills that I call methodology that are necessary to make sure we to continue to evolve.

SM: The SharePoint 2010 developer story is very exciting. What do you see as the payback for ASP.NET developers to add developing SharePoint sites to their repertoire?

SG: One of the exciting things about SharePoint is that it's built on ASP.NET. SharePoint is an ASP.NET app. With the new Visual Studio 2010 you can now use Visual Studio 2010 to open and edit a SharePoint site and create new integration. You can expand the skills that you have with ASP.NET. And the VB and C# language skills that you already have and now your Visual Studio skills \\[are\\] basically added to create those types of solutions. That's great from a skills transfer perspective, but it basically means that you are going to learn new things—but it's not a case where you have to learn everything new. Now you have an app framework—SharePoint lets you take your ASP.NET skills and be even more successful and get even more capabilities done quickly.

SM: What would the tradeoff be? Rather than doing a site in pure ASP.NET, what would drive a decision to go to SharePoint?

SG: I think you need to ask: To what extent do you want to do custom development, or to what extent are you extending an existing solution? Part of the power of SharePoint is that there's just a bunch of great functionality that you get effectively from the very beginning when you're building a project. So a lot of the development that you end up doing is adding and extending the base functionality with customization, workflows, and UIs of your own. ASP.NET is there if you want to do truly custom development. Where you want to start from scratch on a project and build up, ASP.NET gives you the full power to do that. What's great is that you have the same programming languages, the same tools, and the same APIs for both. So you now have the power to build up as well as start with something big and customize down.

SM: What are you finding that customers are really passionate about in Silverlight 3?

SG: There are a couple of things that customers have really liked with Silverlight 3. One is our media capabilities. Smooth streaming support enables you to deliver HD video on the web, which is something that no one else can really claim to do anywhere near as well as we do. Look at things like Sunday night football, the upcoming Olympics, Wimbledon, and other events over the last couple of months. Netflix is a big customer of ours that is redefining the quality experience of video on the Internet. So that's always something to get people excited.

People are excited about the out-of-the-browser support with Silverlight 3. The ability to take an application and run it outside the browser and/or offline is a feature that's really resonated well and gotten people excited. There's a capability which ships as part of Expression called SketchFlow, which basically changes how you build apps and provides them a very interactive development model for taking a concept to reality. And using this concept of prototyping and sketching, you can iterate with your customer or with somebody who's giving you feedback. This enables you to deliver a polished, really nice solution. Those are three examples of things that have really popped with the Silverlight 3 release and have got a lot of people excited.

SM: What inroads has Silverlight made competitively against Flash?

SG: We've always looked at big customers and exciting solutions that have gone live. Most those customers I've mentioned have used Flash before; now they've adopted Silverlight. They've not only been successful commercially or financially, but whether you look at Twitter traffic or blog traffic for anecdotal feedback, people are blown away by Monday Night Football. They're continually impressed with Netflix. There's a "wow" factor with all these solutions. I know we say that something is more productive or cheaper or more TCO, but the nice thing about Silverlight is that people see the user experience and just go "Wow! That is really cool video." Those are some of the big inroads we've made with Silverlight. We have a lot of great mindshare. And we're also seeing our usage continually increase, both in terms of customers and the percentage of machines that already have Silverlight installed.

SM: Has Microsoft been gaining market share against Flash?

SG: Every week that goes by, we continue to see our market share increase. We haven't published any recent numbers, but we do track it every week and we go up a little bit. I'd say we're making good progress. And we're pretty much on track with where we wanted to be.

SM: I've heard Silverlight described as .NET light. Is it destined to replace the framework?

SG: No it will definitely not replace the framework. The thing with Silverlight is that we ship a version of the .NET Framework that's a subset of the full .NET Framework. It's basically the subset that makes sense for doing web-based client development. A big emphasis point has been: How do we enable that to work well, and how do we ensure that .NET developers—whether they're running on the server or on the desktop or the browser with Silverlight—can basically use the same language, the same tools, the same API, and run everywhere? So I don't view it as replacing anything. I think of it more as just a way that we can make sure that we share our technology and share our code and use it everywhere.

SM: How will .NET 4.0 meet the perception that developers are "putting their juice" into iPhone apps or cloud applications that don't run on Windows?

SG: Following the release of Beta 2 this week, the feedback on Visual Studio and .NET 4.0 has been great. At the end of the day we're trying to do a couple of things. We obviously want to get developers excited about what we're doing. Then ultimately deliver the value. Feedback this week on Windows 7 is that it's great. At the end of the day it's about making sure that we deliver that value. We have a very loyal developer base. For the people I've talked to this week, they seem more excited about the next 12 months than they have been in an awfully long time.

SM: So do you think that the folks who are creating all those iPhone apps are more like hobbyists?

SG: There are a lot of people doing iPhone development. The iPhone is still relatively new, and I think some of the buzz has worn off a little bit in terms of the app store because there are so many apps in it. iPhone is exciting for a lot of people. Great for Apple; great for developers. We're going to focus on making sure that our stuff is exciting too. Today we have millions of developers using our stuff so I think we'll have even more in the future.

SM: Will there be a lot more .NET 4.0 apps on Windows Mobile?

SG: We support .NET on Windows Mobile today, and we're very committed to making sure that Silverlight, for example, in particular works not just on Windows Mobile but that it works on Nokia Symbian phones. A couple of weeks ago we announced that we'd be running on Intel Linux devices running Moblin. You're going to see Silverlight and .NET running on a wide variety of devices and form factors.

SM: Today's the big Windows 7 launch. Did you want to comment on that?

SG: I think Windows 7 is a huge step for us and for customers. I've been running it on my machine for over nine months. Everyone I've known who has used it has been super happy: performance, quality, so we're excited to have it out there in market. It's great to see all the excitement from customers about it.

SM: Do you see Windows development and web development coming closer together?

SG: Web apps are certainly becoming richer, and Silverlight takes the best of the web and the best of the client and enables you to build richer and more interactive client apps. That I certainly think is a trend that's happening. More and more customers are wanting to enable a variety of scenarios. What's unique about .NET is that we have a programming model that works for both the Windows client desktop and Windows client web and web server and database and messaging servers, and it has the ability to run everywhere and be super powerful.

SM: What advice can you give ASP.NET developers leveraging the Windows Azure Platform to create cloud-based solutions?

SG: One of the things we're trying to do with .NET is let you build applications that can work both on-premise in your own network, in a hosted environment with a hoster, and then within the cloud with something like Azure. The great thing about Visual Studio is that you can start an ASP.NET project and build a solution that will work in all three of those environments, use Visual Studio to do it, and with Visual Studio 2010 in addition to providing publishing support to go on-premise and to go to a hoster you actually have a project now that's part of Visual Studio that lets you easily host inside Azure. With an MSDN subscription that we announced this week, we're including free Azure hours as part of MSDN Professional, Premium, and Ultimate subscriptions. So you buy MSDN Ultimate, and you get 250 hours of Azure time per month that you can use. We're unique in the sense that we support all three options. And obviously with our development tools and developer frameworks, we're unique in that we enable our customers to do that. Different customers will want and need different hosting options, so I think it's a great time for customers.

SM: What does NET 4.0 offer open source developers?

SG: There are a couple of things that we do: One is that with this wave of products we're embracing open source and using open source more. Things like jQuery are now built in. It's a popular resource, as is AJAX Framework. We're trying to make sure we work well with open source projects and developers to run great on .NET and also for us to be able to use .NET and Visual Studio to help support them. We've also announced a project that we call the CodePlex Foundation, which is going to be an umbrella organization we'll use to enable Microsoft to publish open source projects and get code contributions back. Expect to see more details on that in the future.

SM: What does the roadmap look like for ASP.NET to the launch and beyond?

SG: Well, we just shipped Beta 2 earlier this week, and that's a big milestone for us. We're in the process right now of getting feedback on ASP.NET and .NET Framework 4. We're going to use the next couple of months to iterate on that feedback, address customer suggestions and complaints, and lead up to the launch, which will happen early next year in the March timeframe. So the next big milestone for us is the release candidate, and then we'll ship the final release. We've got our hands full over the next few months. In parallel we're starting the planning process for the next release of .NET and Visual Studio, but it's still a little too early to say exactly what the features and timeframe will be.

SM: We'll look forward to hearing about those features.

Sheila Molnar ([email protected]) is executive editor of DevConnections.

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