I spend much of my time knee deep in Microsoft technologies, and I often find it difficult to keep up with the new products and versions. Fortunately, I usually have some time to get up to speed because most organizations are slow to adopt new technologies and upgrade to new versions. In addition, there is always a wealth of older code running, so there is plenty of work for those with the set of skills.

But it’s still important to keep up with what’s new in the development world. For instance, in 2008, Microsoft is planning new releases of its development tools, SQL Server, operating system upgrades, and more. Here’s a quick overview of what developers can expect from Microsoft in 2008.

.NET Framework 3.5

It seems like only yesterday that I was diving into the second version (2.0) of the .NET Framework. Now, version 3.5 is apparently ready for primetime with a ton of new features. Version 3.5 includes built-in AJAX support via ASP.NET AJAX 1.0, so no separate download is required.

Base improvements to the development platform include performance improvements via faster garbage collection along with smarter and faster ngen. Anonymous and named pipes IO classes have been added, as well as new data types BigInt and HashSet. Deep integration of Language Integrated Query (LINQ) and data awareness are included.

Smart client support has been added throughout the Framework and development tools; this includes a bunch of new classes in the namespaces System.Web.ClientServices and System.Web.ClientServices.Providers. There’s new Web protocol support for building WCF services, including AJAX, JSON, REST, POX, RSS, ATOM, and several new WS-* standards. Microsoft states that new classes have been added to the .NET Framework 3.5 base class library to address the most common customer requests.

When you are ready to jump to .NET Framework 3.5, you will most likely use Visual Studio 2008.

Visual Studio 2008

The most popular development environment for Microsoft .NET development is Visual Studio. Visual Studio 2008 was released to MSDN subscribers about a week ago; it will be available to the public at a later date. You can expect the Visual Studio 2008 buzz to increase next year as it penetrates the market. .NET Framework 3.5 is at the heart of Visual Studio 2008.

A key feature of the product is the ability to build on top of the IDE; that is, developers and vendors can create and distribute their own custom tools built on top of the Visual Studio IDE. This is facilitated by a new feature called Visual Studio Shell.

One of my favorite enhancements is the support for multi-targeting. This means you can develop applications that target different versions of the .NET Framework. The developer picks the version of the .NET Framework to use, and Visual Studio handles everything behind the scene, as the feature set matches the chosen .NET Framework.

Other new features include enhanced HTML/CSS support within the IDE. You can easily create and manage CSS styles as well as Intellisense support in CSS. HTML editing resembles some features of FrontPage as you can view both code and design views at the same time and more features.

AJAX and JavaScript support has been enhanced in Visual Studio 2008. JavaScript now has Intellisense support, and AJAX applications are much easier to debug with the enhanced JavaScript debugger.

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is now integrated in the IDE. You can build WPF forms within Visual Studio, and new WPF-based projects have been added as project types when building new applications.

A new feature that has received a lot of coverage is LINQ. LINQ introduces patterns for querying and updating data. A set of new assemblies are provided that enable the use of LINQ with collections, SQL databases, and XML documents.

It also comes with an enhanced debugger and reporting features, as well as strong support for smart clients and promised performance improvements within the IDE (let’s hope Microsoft keeps that promise). Also, there is talk of add-ins for Silverlight and other tools, but these have not been released.

SQL Server 2008

The database backend is a key part of almost every development project. While SQL Server 2005 is relatively new, SQL Server 2008 is staring you in the face. It offers plenty of new features, including a new business intelligence platform, enhanced data warehousing support, and more support for server consolidation.

With SQL Server 2008, the integration with Visual Studio 2008 continues as you can build applications with the familiar IDE. SQL Server 2008 provides LINQ support; you can take advantage of LINQ to retrieve SQL Server 2008 data.

Another new feature in SQL Server 2008 is the ADO.NET Entity Framework. This allows you to define a rich conceptual object model based on the Entity Data Model and logically organize database tables and columns into higher-level entities.

More updates

The .NET Framework, Visual Studio, and SQL Server are the core development tools offered by Microsoft, but you can expect updates to the many other products and platforms the company offers, including SharePoint, BizTalk, Expression, and more. Also, on the operating systems side, it remains to be seen how many will move to Vista and new server versions are on the way.

Full steam ahead

The wheels at Microsoft continue to move forward with new versions of its base development tools and platforms. While you don’t always have to dive head first and learn everything as adoption of these new tools is slow, you do need to be aware of what is available and on the horizon.

What are your plans for next year with Microsoft technologies? Do you foresee yourself developing with Visual Studio 2008 and .NET Framework 3.5? Share your thoughts and feelings with the .NET community.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.


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