The recent MS PDC showed a company hard at work on integrating platforms, applications, and tools, and one that is "challenging its competitors to innovate," industry observer Peter O'Kelly said this week.
Taken together, technology initiatives such as Visual Studio 2005, NET Framework 2.0, Office 12 and Visual Studio Tools for Applications establish Microsoft as "poised to reframe the competitive context" of productivity applications in the enterprise software market, indicated O'Kelly, senior analyst for Application Platform Strategies, Burton Group.
Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005, and BizTalk Server 2006 are classic "Microsoft 3.0" products, he noted. "They are very evolved products," he said. Like others, he suggests that Microsoft seldom produces a top-notch product in its first attempt, but subsequent updated versions of their software often can gain greater followings.
Most of the publicity surrounding Office 12 centers on end-user benefits, notably the elimination of most menus, toolbars and task panes on startup. But developers stand to benefit from Office 12 improvements; it is gaining deeper XML support and programmability and more customization features.
The introduction of Visual Studio Tools for Applications (VSTA) should also help, O'Kelly said, as it will let more developers work within Office itself to create apps. In effect VSTA will shield them from the complexity of Microsoft's full-fledged Visual Studio offering. Office 12 and VSTA are expected to appear next year.
The VSTA announcement was but one of many PDC developments – LINQ, Windows Workflow Foundation, Windows Presentation Foundation "Everywhere" and the Expression family of design products also popped up. For its part, Windows Presentation Foundation "Everywhere" betokens Microsoft's interest in browser-based thin-clients is in place, even as it rolls out a new rich Office client.
The focus on browser-based clients is a bit surprising for Microsoft, O'Kelly said, "but [the thin clients] are likely to produce an aggregate net gain for Microsoft, and are poised to effectively address some otherwise very challenging competitive dynamics."
Looking beyond the PDC, Microsoft has much work ahead. "It's not a foregone conclusion that Microsoft will be entirely successful with the initiatives introduced at PDC 2005," O'Kelly said, adding that Microsoft's timetable is pretty ambitious. "But it's probably going to be a lot more successful than its rivals would like to imagine."
And what does it all mean for VB developers? "This is nothing but good news," O'Kelly said, so long as developers have moved onto VB.NET. While the first versions of VB.NET entailed a steep learning code, the plethora of tools available in Visual Studio 2005 give VB developers much more to work with, O'Kelly added.