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With Visual Studio plug-in, developers can build BlackBerry apps

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has created a free Visual Studio 2005 plug-in that lets .NET developers use the familiar IDE to create applications for BlackBerry smartphones.

BlackBerry maker Research in Motion has created a free Visual Studio 2005 plug-in that lets .NET developers use the familiar IDE to create applications for BlackBerry smartphones.

The plug-in, available at the BlackBerry Developer Center, aims to make BlackBerry application development as intuitive as ASP.NET or Windows Mobile app development, said John Edward, product manager for the BlackBerry platform, in a recent webcast for developers.

With the plug-in, back-end code can be written in any .NET language, while front-end development is done in JavaScript. The plug-in does offer JavaScript IntelliSense, for example for full method tips and parameter assistance, but Neil admitted that JavaScript debugging is "fairly limited" now. "We're working to enhance this for future releases, to bring it more in line with capability you are used to with Visual Studio tools," he said.

Two sample applications, written in both VB and C#, come with the plug-in. There is a form submit sample, which is modeled after a questionnaire, and an emergency contact list sample, which is intended to demonstrate the BlackBerry's ability to push data from a back-end SQL database to a mobile device, Edward said. In addition, there is a sample orders database similar to the Northwind database that comes with SQL Server.

BlackBerry apps make use of the Mobile Data System (MDS) runtime, and those developed in Visual Studio are no exception. In this case, .NET Web services leverage the MDS to connect to the application's back-end servers and then present the applicable data to the BlackBerry user.

As with ASP.NET applications, these Web services are added to BlackBerry applications through a Web reference, explained Tim Neil, team lead for RIM's IDE Extensions Team.

However, he noted, there is a difference. "Unlike normal Web references in .NET, in an MDS runtime application you can add some extra functionality to those classes that have been exposed," Neil said, adding that one example of this is producing data collections that are then stored on the BlackBerry itself.

This points to another advantage of developing an MDS application for the BlackBerry as opposed to a browser-based Web application, Neil continued. The MDS runtime allows for asynchronous communication, which means that, if an end user edits one of those data collections and makes a Web service call while out of service, the call will be made once service is available.

During the webcast, one attendee asked how BlackBerry's Visual Studio plug-in compared to Java ME. Neil said he did not see the choice between the two platforms as an either/or proposition. The MDS runtime is well-equipped for forms-based applications, he noted, adding, "If you want something that's graphically intensive or needs multithreading, then use Java ME."

The BlackBerry Plug-in for Microsoft Visual Studio is compatible with Visual Studio 2005 Standard and Professional editions and with Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Support for Windows Vista is forthcoming, the company said, as is support for Windows Mobile devices that run the BlackBerry application suite.

The plug-in requires MDS runtime 1.1.2 or later and BlackBerry Enterprise Server / MDS Services 4.1.x.


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