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Microsoft’s Whidbey: Something For Everyone

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LOS ANGELES — Microsoft’s pre-beta version of its Visual Studio .NET platform, “Whidbey”, is offering a trove of new simplified tools and features that should make developers jobs easier, while giving Microsoft critics new fodder, attendees at the Professional Developers Conference here said.

“What we are hearing from developers on Visual Studio .NET is that there’s a ton of stuff that’s interesting” to them, said John Montgomery, director of the .NET platform division for Microsoft. A lot of the feedback depends on where developers are coming from, he told

“We made some key advances in the ASP.NET [sub-framework of Visual Studio] and introduced a bunch of new controls and services that are going to reduce the amount of code that a typical developer has to write for a typical application by up to 70 percent,” Montgomery said.

“There are a bunch of features that we’re adding for core language improvements. Edit and continue is one; there’s also one called generics, which is a way of enabling code reuse. So in general the main feedback depends on what kind of a developer you want to be.”

Prior versions of Visual Basic through version 6 had the “edit and continue” feature, but when Microsoft offered the version of Visual Basic .NET, the complexity of tracking a compiled application versus an interpreted application meant that .NET temporarily discontinued the feature, Montgomery said. “A lot of developers missed it. With Whidbey, it’s back.”

The new Whidbey features, many of which extend support for other development languages such as C++, are designed to help developers continue pushing Web services out to their end-users by writing in managed code of the .NET platform.

Like its “Yukon” SQL Server and “Longhorn” Windows operating system pre-beta builds unveiled at the PDC this week, the Visual Studio “Whidbey” tools are trying to help developers and architects simplify the process of designing and building applications, from simple Web and client applications, mobile applications, and global-scale, service-oriented applications, officials said.

Microsoft said the new functions include new Web services designer tools (code-named “Whitehorse”) that enable architects and developers to design service-oriented applications and operations infrastructure easily and simultaneously.

The “Whitehorse” tools deploy a drag-and-drop design surface to connect XML Web services, and then validate the resulting applications against the deployment environment using the System Definition Model (SDM), an upgrade with time and money savings in mind, said Marie Huwe, general manager of the developer tools division for Microsoft.

ASP.NET versions of Whidbey are also supporting themes and master pages in order to make it easy to create and maintain Web sites that have a consistent look and feel.

The Whidbey version of the .NET Framework also features a new “ClickOnce” technology that enables applications to be installed, updated and even rolled back to previous versions more easily. But the feature also gave company watchers a chance to raise red flags.

Joe Wilcox, Microsoft analyst for Jupiter Research (whose parent company also owns this publication), wrote that the new “ClickOnce” technology “literally froze him in his chair” over security issues.

Although he noted that the feature is part of new mechanisms Microsoft is putting in place in order to enable developers to write more secure code, he said that because of recent security breaches that Microsoft customers have experienced with viruses infecting their systems, he called “ClickOnce” a potentially tough sell to some customers.

“With its current Windows version, Microsoft has placed in many safeguards that would discourage programs from installing unprompted,” Wilcox wrote Wednesday.

“At the same time, click once ignores that social engineering is perhaps hackers most effective tool breaking into consumer or business PCs. Right now bad behavior is people’s propensity for clicking on pop-up ads or e-mail attachments that install spyware or viruses on their computers. Click once would appear to encourage this very misbehavior.”

But officials noted that the .NET framework’s class-based development model, which updates the traditional flat API development model and is a native Web services environment, enables developers to express the same thoughts in less code and develop applications more efficiently, as well as securely.

Security is one of the main themes that developers need to think of as they of the PDC, as they adopt Web services based on open standards, said Eric Rudder, senior vice president of servers and tools for Microsoft.

For example, “think hard about levels of access control and run your components with the least possible privileges,” he told developers this week. “We do a lot of design where we see a lot of components running as admin- privilege, which can compromise the entire system if the component is compromised. And think about adding new defensive layers.”

In many instances, he added, boosting security at the development level is often a matter of getting “fresh eyes on the code” in order to be more proactive about secure design.

Whidbey is expected to be released into beta by the first half of 2004 with a release to manufacturing by the end of the year. SQL Server is also expected to be released on a similar schedule and Longhorn is widely expected to be released in 2006.

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