You haven't been living in a cave, so you know by now that Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 have officially launched. You probably don't have your hands on a shiny new CD yet (unless you were fortunate enough to attend one of the official launch events), but the release bits are available for MSDN subscribers to download. Even if you opt to wait for physical media, it won't be long before you can install the new software on your very own computer. But then what? With new releases of this magnitude, you need to have a plan to move forward in an orderly fashion. Here are my top five suggestions for riding the new software wave while taking minimal risks.
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- Give Yourself Some Learning Time. Many developers participated in the VS2005 and SQL2005 betas. But even if you're one of those developers, you probably didn't spend all your time in the betas, and of course things change between beta and release. Don't assume that your experience with Visual Studio .NET 2003, SQL Server 2000, or various beta versions is going to make you instantly productive in the latest releases. You need to allow time to come up the learning curve. Ideally, you'll give yourself time to work through the various Quickstart tutorials, read sections in the help files that cover areas you especially need to know, and tap some of the wealth of information that's online about this software.
- Run Side-by-Side. You can install Visual Studio 2005 on the same computer as Visual Studio .NET 2003. Similarly, you can install instances of SQL Server 2005 and SQL Server 2000 side-by-side on the same box. While there are a few areas where the versions bump into each other, by and large they will peacefully coexist. For now, I definitely recommend that you go with this side-by-side view of the world, rather than upgrading your existing installations. Unless you happen to be just starting your first development job, you've got older code out there already that you need to maintain. It makes sense to be able to maintain it in the tools that were used to write it. Plus, keeping the older versions around is a good safety net, just in case some bizarre and intractable bug turns up in the new versions. In a year or two you might feel secure enough to move everything over, but meanwhile, disk space is cheap.
- Don't Migrate for the Sake of Migration. The temptation may be overwhelming to take existing projects and slurp them into Visual Studio 2005, making a clean break with Visual Studio .NET 2003 development. Don't do it! If the existing code is working fine where it is, leave it alone. While VS2005 is largely compatible with VS.NET 2003, why take the chance of running into some oddball edge case when you don't need to? You should move code when you see some compelling benefit to doing so, not just because you have a shiny new toy. If you see a new feature that will make the application better, that's the time to migrate - not before.
- Consider Your Support Tools. It's unlikely that Visual Studio is your only tool for developing software. You probably use some mix of add-ins and third-party controls to make your life easier and your products better. Before you make the switch, you need to understand whether you're leaving any of those tools and libraries behind. Are all of the vendors you depend on ready with VS2005-ready versions? If not, when will they be? You may have to wait a few weeks or months for some critical piece of your working environment to be ready.
- Don't Outrun Your Team. If you're the early adopter type, you'll want to move to VS2005 right now: It's new, it's wonderful, you're ready. But is your entire team ready? Is everyone you share code with ready? Realistically, you can only move at the pace of the slowest person - and a little bit slower than that is prudent. There's no prize for being the first team on the block to get rid of their old IDE. But there are prizes for not messing up your process by having some team members on one IDE and some on another, trying to figure out how to share code between incompatible versions.
Microsoft is going to be making a huge big deal of the VS2005 and SQL2005 launch - and well they should. These are huge, significant pieces of software. But don't let the hoopla push you into doing something that you'll later regret. When you get the giant download or the spiffy new DVDs ready to install, take a few minutes to think things through. Your life will be much simpler for exercising a bit of caution up front.
Mike Gunderloy is the Senior Technology Partner for Adaptive Strategy, a Washington State consulting firm. You can read more of Mike's work at his Larkware Web site, or contact him at MikeG1@larkfarm.com.