Visual FoxPro 9 Goes Gold

Midway through December, Microsoft's Visual FoxPro 9.0 development tool struck gold. The release, formerly code-named "Europa," is billed as the best new version since FoxPro 3.0.

Although that claim rings a familiar bell, the proof may be in the pudding: FoxPro 9.0 contains substantial reporting enhancements, embeds SQL in the FoxPro language, and is more extensible, allowing developers to introduce code that benefits their end user applications.

According to materials published by Ken Levy, Microsoft's VS Data Product Manager, report enhancements account for approximately 40-45 percent of new functionality. Due to a bevy of changes that have been made to Report Writer, users can now design with multiple detail banding, text rotation and report chaining and output data to a variety of formats including XML, HTML and image formats.

Other tools provided in the release do more to manipulate layouts and control rendering.

Currently, FoxPro lacks PDF output support, but accepts third-party extensions that make it possible.

Microsoft has also embedded SQL into the FoxPro language, levering the company's extensive Xbase heritage and clearing the way for greater compatibility as well as new commands and functions for developers. A wish list of consumer feedback has been the growth engine behind FoxPro's feature set; Levy maintains that half of all FoxPro customers already prefer a mixed environment of SQL with FoxPro.

Despite the changes to the product's data manipulation languages, FoxPro 9.0 is backwards compatible all the way through the 1980's when FoxPro was an MS-DOS application.

Microsoft has also promised more extensibility and .NET and SQL Server interoperability. Customers are told to view FoxPro as more of a developer's tool than a database that can be used with any database system. Essentially, the product is rolls language, IDE and database components into one package. Customers have said that we "blew the lid off of extensibility," stated Levy.

In a move more reminiscent of open source, licensed customers are given the full Xbase source code that they can modify as they see fit. Currently, Microsoft has over 100,000 FoxPro developers in its ledgers.

Although the 9.0 milestone is a significant occurrence in the history of FoxPro, the release has been given a shadowy inauguration by Microsoft thus far. Despite having legions of loyal developers, the Visual FoxPro product team is made up of two separate units that are straddled between working exclusively on FoxPro as well as the Visual Studio cash cow.

"Microsoft's rather stealth Visual FoxPro 9 upgrade says almost all that needs to be said about the product's position in the greater constellation of products. FoxPro has its devoted following, which for a smaller company might be significant, but not enough at Microsoft where executives count successes in the billions," said Joe Wilcox, senior analyst with Jupiter Research.

Visual FoxPro 9.0 is available to MSDN subscribers as a download. Full boxed and upgrade versions are expected to ship sometime in early 2005. The software's footprint is light: the runtime is 5 MB and a basic installation requires a mere 20 MB of hard disk space. Preorders are accepted at FoxToolbox.com.

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