Microsoft has made a release candidate for Visual Studio 2010 available for download, and the rumour is that the final build should be ready in time for the official launch on April 12th. Should you care?
I'd argue that Microsoft's platform is in decline, despite good financial results recently on the back of the success of Windows 7. Windows-only development is increasingly unattractive in a world where Macs, iPhones and Linux devices such as Android and some netbooks jostle for attention alongside the once all-conquering Windows PC. Microsoft does internet too, of course, and even cross-platform for the desktop if you count what is coming in Silverlight 4.0; but even after the launch of Windows Azure this month, the company is not the first to come to mind when you think cloud.
That said, Visual Studio 2010 is a mighty impressive release. It is not just a new IDE, but also includes .NET Framework 4.0, the first complete update since version 2.0 in 2005. Versions 3.0 and 3.5 used the same underlying runtime as 2.0. The Chief Architect is Rico Mariani, Microsoft's .NET performance expert, which has no doubt helped in the tricky transition to Windows Presentation Foundation for the Visual Studio editor and shell; and much of the product is under the oversight of VP Scott Guthrie, one person who still knows how to communicate with developers, and whose presentation on Silverlight 4.0 rescued last year's Professional Developer's Conference from tedium.
Leaving aside the people involved, there is a ton of interesting stuff to explore, including the new F# language, IntelliTrace debugging that lets you step backwards through code, standard UML diagramming, source code management and issue tracking through Team Foundation no matter how small your team, greatly improved libraries and tools for concurrent programming, and if you have the Ultimate edition and the patience to set it up, an extraordinary thing called Lab Management which integrates virtual machines into the automated build and test cycle so that you can verify clean installs into complex multi-machine environments on every build, and use snapshots to analyse bugs at the moment they occur. This is also the first release to be designed with ASP.NET MVC in mind, and to have a full visual designer for Silverlight. Microsoft has also done some good work with Windows Workflow Foundation, in conjunction with a new runtime for the IIS web server called Windows AppFabric, making it easier to build and deploy applications that depend on long-running state management.
There are some disappointments. One is that Visual Studio is out of synch with Silverlight 4.0, so despite developer attention having largely shifted to the 4.0 release, Visual Studio 2010 will ship with Silverlight 3.0 support. There will be an add-on in due course that will put that right. Another is that Windows Azure development is not as smoothly integrated as I had hoped. SharePoint development, while much improved, remains an arduous process that tends to take over your development machine; and there is not much new in mobile development as yet. I am sure there will be plenty of other problems and frustrations; so much here is new that it is nearly inevitable.
These issue have not stopped me from enjoying my work so far with the beta and now the RC. If you have any interest in Microsoft's platform, I suggest you take a look.