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Teamwork comes at a price in new Visual Studio

Microsoft's strong focus on development teams will mean substantial price increases for some customers when the company releases its latest suite of developer tools.

As Microsoft's next-generation application development platform inches closer to availability, early developer buzz about potential sticker shock relating to its pricing and licensing is starting to reach the ears of IT executives who also oversee software development processes.

There has never been a Visual Studio product where a company is looking at somewhere between $4,000 and $8,000 per developer.

Greg DeMichillie, analyst,

Directions on Microsoft


Microsoft released pricing and licensing information for Visual Studio 2005 -- formerly code-named Whidbey -- in late March. The software, which is in its second beta test and is due out later this year, has expanded to take on a broader scope of lifecycle functions, and now includes separate subscriptions and tools for role-based development environments.

Visual Studio 2005 is not just aimed at individual programmers; it is geared toward an entire development team -- whose members test, design and manage the applications. As a result, all of the associated tools in the suite will be tightly integrated, according to Prashant Sridharan, a senior product manager for Visual Studio 2005 at Microsoft. The new tools -- which together are referred to as Visual Studio Team System -- are targeted to compete with those from companies such as IBM Rational, Borland Software Corp. and Mercury Interactive Corp.

Customers who are already Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Universal subscribers can upgrade to one of the role-based Visual Studio products for free. However, some customers with MSDN Universal subscriptions had expected to get the entire suite of tools at no additional cost, not just one component. In the past, customers had access to most of Microsoft's development tools with their subscriptions. Now, if customers want the entire suite, they will have to pay for an upgrade. For some, that may be more than they can afford.

Paying for flexibility

A vice president of information technology at a Midwestern insurer said his organization will feel the pinch. "We currently use the MSDN Universal subscription for our developers," he said. "That gives us access to whichever Visual Studio tool we need.

"Now, we have to select one of four tracks for our developers, and if we want to have the same flexibility we currently have, we will have to pay an upgrade fee. This severely limits our flexibility or significantly increases our costs."

Sridharan defended the new pricing and licensing structure for Visual Studio 2005 because of the breadth of the suite and the fact that competitors sell similar tools for more. "These tools typically cost anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 for tools that can simulate an ordinary Web site," he said. "On the application modeling side -- now these are expensive tools -- you can spend from $2,500 to $15,000 in varying calibers."

Comparing Visual Studio and IBM Rational

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It's not easy to shop tools by price, since vendors bundle their products in different ways. But as a point of comparison, IBM Rational's Professional Bundle maps somewhat to Microsoft's Visual Studio Team System. Both offer tools for modeling, testing, integrated development environment (IDE), configuration management and version control.

The Rational bundle ranges from $12,625 for a "floating" license -- which allows several employees to share the software -- to $7,000 for a single, fixed license. On the low end, Rational charges $3,370 for tool usage with an annual renewal option, according to Eric Naiburg, market manager for desktop products at IBM Rational.

By comparison, Microsoft's pricing for those with an MSDN subscription is as follows:

  • Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition with MSDN Premier subscription: $2,499 (renewal: $1,999)
  • Visual Studio 2005 Professional Edition with MSDN Professional subscription: $1,199 (renewal: $799)
  • MSDN Operating Systems subscription: $699 (renewal: $499)
  • MSDN Library subscription: $199 (renewal: $99).

Further, MSDN subscribers can upgrade to the entire suite for about $2,500, Sridharan said. MSDN subscribers are being advised to discuss pricing with their account rep or reseller when they pick a role-based SKU.

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