Visual Studio vs. Vista: What's going on here?

When Microsoft released the long-awaited VS 2005 Service Pack 1, it revealed that Vista won't support older versions of Visual Studio and will even have issues with VS 2005. In other words, MS erred badly, Mike Gunderloy writes.

It started off with what Microsoft probably hoped would be viewed as good news: the announcement on Microsoft VP S. Somasegar's blog that SP1 for Visual Studio 2005 was finally going into beta testing (somewhat later than previously promised, but let's leave beating them up over that for another day).

Buried in the announcement, though, was news on which development environments would be supported on Windows Vista when it ships in a few months. They are:

  • Visual Basic 6.0 (supported)
  • Visual Studio .NET 2002 (not supported)
  • Visual Studio .NET 2003 (not supported)
  • Visual Studio 2005 (supported, but will have "compatibility issues" until some nebulous set of post-SP1 fixes ships)

Well, the compatibility news wasn't all that buried. In fairly short order, there were howls from within the .NET blogging community from people who suddenly noticed that .NET 1.1 development wasn't going to be supported on the new flagship client operating system.

All in all, I think this is a major embarrassment for Microsoft's Developer Division.
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The howling seems to be perfectly justified; despite what Microsoft might like you to believe, there is still a tremendous pile of .NET 1.1 applications running out there, and sensible developers don't migrate to a new version of the platform just because Microsoft wants to sell more seats. Visual Studio .NET 2003 development is going to be with us for a long time to come.

Microsoft went into damage control mode fairly quickly. The official answer to the complaints is twofold.

First, they say, you can easily continue to do Visual Studio .NET 2003 development on Vista -- just do it inside a Virtual PC session loaded with Windows XP! Ignoring for a moment just how terrible that is as PR for Windows Vista, it's also not a very realistic answer if your .NET 1.1 applications are of any serious complexity. VM sessions are slower than real sessions, even if your machine is loaded for bear and you use the faster VMware instead of the slower Virtual PC. If you're a developer, it's likely not worth the speed hit to get the pretty Windows Vista face -- especially if you have to drop back to the Windows XP look to do your work.

The second answer from Microsoft is that Visual Studio 2003 will "mostly work" and that it's only things like "advanced debugging scenarios" that will fail (a victim of Vista's increased security). Again, there are serious problems with this response. Unless Microsoft provides a list of precisely which scenarios are affected (something they have shown no inclination to do so far), it's hard to have any confidence in running a tool that may fail at any time. It's also dangerous to stake serious business on running a "not supported" tool, whether it "mostly works" or not. If you hit a bug, there's no calling Microsoft support for a fix.

Score: Microsoft 0, complaining developers 2.

But lost in all the fuss is what I see as an even bigger issue. Here's one of the key sections from Somasegar's original announcement:

"Ensuring that VS2005 works well on Windows Vista is a core goal of ours. Visual Studio 2005 SP1 will run on Vista but will likely have a few compatibility issues. We are working with the Vista team to understand those, to provide workarounds where possible and also work on providing you with a set of fixes beyond SP1."

Vista, as we all know, has been under development since roughly the fall of the Roman Empire. The Windows team has been telling us we need to make simple changes to make our applications run well in a Vista world.

More on VS 2005 SP 1 and Vista
VS 2005 SP1 with .NET 3.0 is available .. but with caveats (TheServerSide.NET)
This is the future, they say, and it's important we play along. But it can't possibly have been a surprise to the Visual Studio team that there was a huge bunch of people in Redmond working on a new operating system, can it? So how can it be that in late 2006, they're working to understand their compatibility issues? Shouldn't someone have planned for this?

All in all, I think this is a major embarrassment for Microsoft's Developer Division. As far as I'm concerned, they've played the "limited resources" card once too often. Customers have a reasonable expectation that the current flagship development environment will be 100% supported on the current flagship operating system on their respective release dates. As far as I'm concerned, if that doesn't happen, it's a bug.

Mike Gunderloy is the editor of the Larkware Web site, the daily .NET newspaper of record. You can contact him at MikeG1@larkfarm.com.

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