Microsoft Visual Studio .NET V.7.1 is Microsoft’s multi-faceted development tool, targeting both Windows and Web applications. This v7.1 edition includes numerous small improvements as well as major new features like the Compact Framework, for applications that run on Pocket PC and other smart devices. It supports multiple languages, with the main ones being Visual Basic, C#, and C++. There is also a Java-like language called J#, although J# applications only work on Windows so this is not a true Java development tool. The Visual Studio .NET environment is truly integrated. It makes extensive use of docking and tabbed windows, and there are plenty of project wizards along with huge amounts of online help. Auto-completion and pop-up help eases the business of editing code.
Microsoft’s .NET tools are very different from their predecessors. Visual C++ can still compile standard Windows executables, but the other languages all target the .NET Framework, a runtime engine and class library that manages memory and enforces security. Framework applications perform well, since they are compiled to native code at runtime, but there is an overhead in terms of memory usage and the Framework runtime must be installed. In compensation, .NET brings many advantages. All the languages are fully object-oriented, the class library is rich, and XML support is deeply integrated. ASP.NET is for web applications, and represents a large advance on the old ASP. Instead of script, ASP.NET supports any of the .NET languages, running on the server and just-in-time compiled to native code. There is a visual web page designer, and carefully designed applications support a wide range of browsers. A new feature in this version of Visual Studio is Mobile Web Forms, which use adaptive rendering to support the browsers in mobile phones and PDAs.
The database technology in Visual Studio is called ADO.NET. It uses a disconnected model, which means that applications work with data locally, only contacting the server for data transfer or update. It’s a good model for laptops, smart devices, and wide area networks, but there’s a lot to learn for those skilled in older database APIs.
The Visual Studio .NET Professional 2003 edition represents the best value in the range. There’s no Visual SourceSafe or Visio diagramming, and it lacks the server licences found in the high-end Enterprise editions, but it’s otherwise a fully comprehensive package.
For those wondering whether to make the jump to .NET, this release is probably the right moment to go ahead. The technology is maturing, and the inclusion of the Compact Framework makes the package more compelling. Students and newcomers to programming will welcome the clean object-orientation in C#, and the deep XML support on offer is essential for enterprise applications or integrating with other platforms. It’s still important to note the heavy system requirements, and that .NET applications do not run on Windows 95. In most cases, the higher productivity of .NET languages soon pays for any additional resources.