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Microsoft PDC gives a taste of Windows 7, Visual Studio 2010

A pair of keynotes on day 2 of PDC gave developers a glimpse of Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010, and then showed them how to build a basic application for Windows Azure, the cloud computing platform that took center stage at the conference yesterday.

LOS ANGELES -- After spending all of yesterday's keynote with its head in the computing cloud, Microsoft came back to earth today to focus on the client side. The company showed off a pre-beta build of Windows 7 and gave developers a glimpse of what the future holds for .NET, WPF, Visual Studio 2010 and Silverlight development.

Microsoft also emphasized the bridge between the cloud and client-side computing. Today's primary keynote ended with an overview of Live Mesh and was followed by a secondary keynote in which presenters extended a .NET program to run on Windows Azure, the cloud computing platform that the company introduced yesterday.

The morning's first keynote was divided between substance and style. Many of the new Windows 7 features that Microsoft showed off were cosmetic, if useful: users will be able to rearrange taskbar items, for instance, and programs will be able to put a separate item in the taskbar for each tab in a window. But the demo also highlighted more utilitarian Windows 7 features, such as the ability to set UAC's sensitivity. The Windows development team is also working to reduce the operating system's memory and processor footprint, said Steven Sinofsky, senior vice president of the Windows and Windows Live group.

Microsoft spent the second part of the keynote focusing on recent improvements to .NET. The newest version of the framework's runtime, .NET 3.5 sp 1, now loads up cold 40% faster, said Scott Guthrie, corporate vice president of Microsoft's .NET Developer Division. Looking to the future, a big part of .NET 4.0 will be interoperability between execution modes, Guthrie said. The framework will be able to run multiple versions of .NET in the same instance -- allowing, for instance, a .NET 2.0 component and a .NET 4.0 component to work side by side -- and will make it easier to call unmanaged COM components from within managed code, he said.

Guthrie also previewed Visual Studio 2010, which will itself be built with WPF. Coupled with a new .NET framework for developing dynamically-loaded plug-ins called the managed extensibility framework (MEF), VS 2010 will be much more extensible than its predecessors, Guthrie said. As an example, Guthrie demoed a simple plug-in that displayed comments in the IDE as rich text.

Not to forget the cloud entirely, Guthrie also talked about improvements to ASP.NET and Silverlight, Microsoft's competitor to Flash. Microsoft is putting its weight behind jQuery, an open source AJAX library, and is even providing a jQuery IntelliSense definition file to give programmers autocompletion for jQuery calls in Visual Studio.

The company also released today a set of new Silverlight controls, including charts and TreeView, that it hopes will help bring rich Internet applications (RIAs) to enterprises. Later in the day, a session devoted to business uses for Silverlight packed one of the bigger session halls at the conference. Silverlight's controls use a subset of WPF, and the company is trying to position it as an intermediate between straight ASP.NET applications -- which work in any browser but have relatively limited UI capabilities -- and full desktop applications, said Jamie Cool, a member of the .NET framework team, at the afternoon Silverlight session.

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