Visual Studio 2008, .NET 3.5 Reach Beta 2; Silverlight 1.0 Hits RC

No fewer than five major announcements in the development field are being issued by Microsoft this afternoon, the timing of which is by no means coincidental: On the top of the list, Beta 2 of Visual Studio 2008 -- which is quickly losing touch with its old code-name "Orcas" -- will be made generally available for download by this Friday, along with Beta 2 of .NET Framework 3.5.

But what developers have been itching to finally try is building applications for Silverlight - the company's new cross-platform graphical front-end module - under the auspices of Visual Studio.

Beginning this week, testers can finally build Silverlight applications as VS 2008 projects, by means of a Silverlight add-in. This while the JavaScript-oriented Silverlight 1.0 is upgraded to Release Candidate status, and the second-generation Silverlight 1.1 for statically-typed languages such as C++, moves from the alpha stage to an official Community Technology Preview.

As Microsoft's group program manager for the developer division, Prashant Sridharan, told BetaNews, the status of VS 2008 may be proceeding faster than anticipated. "We are pretty much in the endgame for Visual Studio 2008," Sridharan told us. "It looks like right now we're going to ship before the end of the year, barring any unforeseen circumstances. And this Beta 2 is the last major milestone before we finally ship the product.

"We're on a very clear trajectory to ship [VS 2008] before the end of the year," Sridharan continued, "barring any unforeseen circumstances, which usually are things like security errors or what we call data loss errors." The development suite is perceived now as mostly feature-complete, and perhaps "before the end of the year" won't mean New Year's Eve.

If VS 2008 is "99% feature complete," what's the missing one percent? Sridharan says, it's little things like disabled menu options - for instance, one which enables an open Web services project to reference the Windows Presentation Foundation library.

"You can do that today programmatically, through the command line, [or] in a bazillion ways," he told us. "That one feature is not enabled in Beta 2, it's little things like that. It's nothing significant, nothing major. There are no features between Beta 2 and RTM, they are [other than] enabling certain menu items that are right now disabled."

For many developers, this is where the real-world testing of Silverlight actually begins. "I think by integrating [Silverlight] into Visual Studio, it does become accessible to a larger group of developers beyond simply the early adopters," remarked Sridharan.

Does this mean we'll be able to see for ourselves the performance differences Microsoft has been touting since the beginning, between programming Silverlight 1.0 with JavaScript and version 1.1 with C++? Sridharan believes, not just yet.

"I think it's something you could start doing with Silverlight 1.1," he said, "but something that's important to recognize is that it is a preview and certainly not the final form. Doing performance analysis probably isn't the right thing to do on a set of preview bits, but doing capability analysis and being able to give Microsoft feedback on the direction that we're taking, that is certainly something that I think is something developers should be doing with a preview."

One feature developers with Orcas Beta 1 have already begun experimenting with is creating their own snap-in development tools for Visual Studio under either or both of two new modes: Integrated mode enables a third-party tool to blend seamlessly with the VS IDE, as one might expect. But isolated mode enables the possibility of developer tools that co-opt the Visual Studio shell for their own purposes, not unlike their own branded IDE.

"This is a function of the Visual Studio Shell," Microsoft's Sridharan explained. "It's the development environment without any of the compilers, tools, or so on, so that third parties can then use it to embed their applications inside of and re-ship.

"The difference between isolated and integrated mode is that, if you were to ship an application in isolated mode, when your application installs on a machine, it would not install into Visual Studio if it were present," he continued. "If you were to build your application in integrated mode...when I install that application, if Visual Studio's present on my machine, the application that I'm installing will merge into Visual Studio. It gives a third party who wants to use the Visual Studio environment a lot of flexibility in terms of how they choose to deploy their application, whether they want their application to ultimately be merged with Visual Studio or whether they want their application to always be separate and stand alone from it. So we do give third-party developers and ISPs a lot of flexibility in that regard."

Sridharan added that Microsoft has decided to extend its "Go Live" license option to users of VS 2008 Beta 2 and .NET 3.5 Beta 2. "That means customers can start deploying applications they build in VS on .NET Framework in a production environment, if they accept the Go Live license," he told BetaNews.

"There are some customers who have bet on Orcas, and are in that situation where they need to deploy their application; and if they accept the Go Live license, they're certainly able to do that. There's all the caveats that apply - the Framework is still in Beta 2, the tools are also in Beta 2, etc. But the Go Live license is there for customers who need that flexibility."

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