When Microsoft released Visual Studio 2005, it paid heed to hobbyists, students and beginning developers with the Visual Studio Express Edition. This free download of the IDE comes in five flavors -- VB, C#, C++, J# and Web Developer -- and has been downloaded several million times. In April, Microsoft announced that VS Express would be free forever; it is available for download here.
This chain of events has some people thinking. If the product is free, then why not bundle it with Windows Vista? Blogger Jeroen van den Bos made his case back in June. He argued that making Visual Studio Express readily available on a consumer's desktop -- as opposed to available for download from MSDN -- would encourage more people, particularly teenagers, to get into .NET development.
The comment string on van den Bos' blog entry offered evenly mixed opinions. Some agreed that VS Express in Vista would indeed encourage more users to get into development. Others disagreed for exactly the same reason -- "Not everyone who drives a car wants to be a mechanic," one commenter wrote. They also cited Microsoft's past antitrust lawsuits as a huge stumbling block.
Recently Dan Fernandez, the lead product manager for Visual Studio Express, posted a response to van den Bos on his blog.
Fernandez admitted that the VS Express group needed to spread the word about the product and what could be done with it. He also said the group did in fact consider bundling VS Express into Windows Vista; this discussion seems to be part of what Fernandez describes in a separate blog entry as the Hobbyist Renaissance at Microsoft.
Ultimately, though, the VS Express group decided against Vista inlcusion for five main reasons -- legal issues, setup and service, the Vista release schedule, language support (spoken, not programming) and the "which of the five versions?" question. The group decided on making VS Express available as a download but is working with computer manufacturers to include VS Express in their systems, Fernandez wrote.
That post prompted a response from Jesse Ezell, who writes here in his blog that making VS Express download-only amounts to a "cop-out":
Developer tools is where open source operating systems like Linux beat Microsoft hands down. If you look at these reasons [Fernandez listed], the only one that really has any validity is the legal issues, since everyone likes to sue the pants off of MS. The other ones are just cop outs.
Meanwhile, back on Fernandez's blog, the author responds to Ezell:
I'd be curious how he would service Visual Studio Expres given that it doesn't use the Windows infrastructure. The fact that Windows and Visual Studio don't use the same servicing infrastructure adds a surprising amount of work….Would you have Vista slip to add developer tools that are freely downloadable on the Web? I also think the comparison to Linux doesn't really make sense. The primary distribution mechanism for Linux is through download and the level of sophistication of the average Windows user versus average Linux user is completely different.
Karl Sequin also offers perspective here in his blog, where, for the sake of good development, he pleads with Microsoft not to bundle VS Express and Vista: "There are too many people out there writing crappy software, way too many writing way too crappy stuff."
Despite their disagreement, both Fernandez and van den Bos deserve credit for attempting to bring software development to a larger audience. Whether VS Express is available through a Web site or an out-of-the-box desktop icon, it is safe to say more folks out there are developing because of it.