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Microsoft Unveils Collaborative Development Environment

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Moving to create a collaborative environment for .NET developers similar to what SourceForge offers for open source, Microsoft last week opened the doors to GotDotNet Workspace 1.0.

GotDotNet is Microsoft’s community site related to its Microsoft Developers Network (MSDN). “GotDotNet’s focus is definitely on community features and content driven by the community,” said Katherine Lagana, MSDN team, general manager of GotDotNet.

Workspace is an online collaborative development environment where .NET developers can create, host and manage projects throughout the project lifecycle. The free service offers team-focused development tools, including:

* Source control, allowing teams to store source code updates by different developers and keep a history of previous versions; it is available to teams as a Web interface, a Windows Forms client, and through the source control features of Microsoft’s Visual Studio .NET development environment

* Bug tracker, allowing teams to record code defects, work items and suggestions, and track progress and changing ownership

* Team communication, in the form of message boards for community discussion and project-specific news through an RSS feed.

Any developer interested in developing an application through Workspace can create a micro-community on GotDotNet. As the owner, that developer has full permissions and can invite members, delete members, change members’ roles, add files and releases, add/resolve/close bugs, etc. The owner can also appoint administrators, who also have full permissions. Members have partial permission, with the ability to add files and releases, and add/resolve/close bugs, but not the ability to manage member lists. Owners can make their Workspaces public, where files and releases and news may be downloaded or read by anybody, or private, where only the title and description of the Workspace is available to the public and the rest is only available to owners, administrators and approved members.

When owners create a Workspace, the creation wizard requests a license that will cover reuse of the code. Any license can be submitted, and GotDotNet provides two sample licenses for reference — one which allows commercial derivative products and another designed for use in private Workspaces.

Lagana said that even open-source licenses are welcome, if the community wants them. “We’re not enforcing any particular type of licensing,” she said. “The community decides.”

The source control system is a custom implementation, according to Microsoft, and the team has also implemented a version running against Visual SourceSafe. The Windows Forms control requires the .NET Framework (v1.0 or v1.1) and Internet Explorer 6.0 SP1. Microsoft said the HTML interface is compatible with most recent browsers. To integrate with Visual Studio, users need either Visual Studio .NET or Visual Studio .NET 2003.

Projects get a default storage space of 30MB, though this is based on active size (the total size of the latest version) and not the history or previous versions. Projects can request additional storage space if necessary.

While many of the features of Workspace are similar to those offered through Microsoft’s Sharepoint Services, Lagana said Workspace is not based on Sharepoint Services. “The origins are different,” she said. “We’re focused on hardcore coders who want to access each other across companies and continents. Sharepoint is targeted at all audiences. Workspace is dedicated to the developer.”

Microsoft initially rolled out a beta release of Workspace in September 2002.

“It was very much a work in progress,” said Andy Oakley, MSDN team, project manager for GotDotNet Workspace. “We had a lot of features in place but they were nowhere near finished. At that time, we had a number of reports of people having difficulty installing the Windows Forms interface.”

But with the official release, which debuted on Tuesday, June 24, Oakley said those problems have been ironed out. The service now features built-in error handling, and a step-by-step process guides developers through getting up and running.

“In just under a week, we’ve seen 200 workspaces created,” Oakley said.

Lagana added, “That’s doubling our traffic from last year.”

Developers are now working on about 2,500 applications through GotDotNet, with anywhere from four to 250 developers working on each application.

Oakley said that, going forward, the Workspace team will focus on improving access controls to manage the number of spectators and testers allowed on each project. “There is no real restriction on size at this point,” he said. “It can become difficult to manage large projects.”

The team is also looking to incorporate .NET Alerts to notify users on particular projects when changes or updates have been made to that project. Also, the team is working on turning each of the key components of Workspace into Web services.

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