Visual Studio 2008 released today, .NET 3.5 now available

With a few years of noticeably hard development work now complete and with the next Visual Studio now being downloaded by MSDN subscribers, work can finally begin on the next edition.

Today, the curtains rise on the final release editions of Visual Studio 2008, and MSDN subscribers are looking forward to being able to use the new features they've actually been testing for about 18 months...and have an official reason to complain if this time they have problems. Once again, Express editions of VS 2008 that concentrate on individual development languages are available for free download.

Amid the multitude of new and completely anticipated new features, however, is one development that hasn't received a lot of attention: Fans of Microsoft's XNA Game Studio Express should rejoice, because starting today, Microsoft is distributing the game foundation and assets system developed for The Game Creators' GameBASIC Professional, as a development kit for its Express edition of C++. It's the DarkGDK kit from The Game Creators, and it includes an extraordinary amount of royalty-free assets.

Among these assets are royalty-free models for people, vehicles, animals, and monsters; a photo-realistic foliage creation engine called BlitzTree 3D; high-resolution textures for simulated skies and atmospheres; a scene and map editor called 3D World Studio; and royalty-free sound effects and noises.

It's tools like these that can get young people excited about programming again, as interest in program development as a career for any reason other than to earn money, has tapered sharply over the past decade.

Partly for that reason, there has indeed been a noticeable shift in the evolutionary path of programming, particularly in the last three years, to jump-start the art. This time Microsoft hasn't been the one leading the way. Though its C# high-level language has gained a following among traditional application developers who prefer the statically typed model, the big push has been toward dynamic programming - executable code that deals with structures in memory as they evolve.

Developers who have worked with Visual Studio -- especially throughout the past year -- are already well aware of this, after having installed add-ins for VS 2005 like the .NET Micro Framework for embedded devices. And already, the VS 2008 "Orcas" betas could be the principal development platform for many teams, although it's not "officially" complete. Microsoft even admitted today to having developed Visual Studio 2008 in VS 2008, specifically in the Team Foundation System version.

Perhaps the three most important innovations in VS 2008's commercial editions pertain to the new realm of dynamic programming. One is the addition of the final edition of .NET Framework 3.5, which includes the graphical libraries necessary to deploy Silverlight; but along with that is Popfly, the Silverlight development environment which is now built into VS 2008.

Second is the environment's formalization of its support for dynamic languages such as IronRuby and IronPython, made possible by the dynamic language runtime (DLR) that is also part of .NET 3.5. And third is the inclusion of LINQ - a concept that should have been made a part of programming decades ago. It's the ability for a .NET language to query sets of data using a SQL-like lexicon, without having to instantiate a data handler such as ADO and transfer recordsets into static variables the old-fashioned way.

Builds may now target multiple versions of .NET Framework for VS 2008, for clients that may have older or multiple editions installed; and support for developing tools for Microsoft Office is -- at last! -- no longer a separate package. Office add-ins and line-of-business apps are among the standard types that developers can create.

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