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What's New in Visual Studio .NET

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Tech journalist Jacqueline Emigh pinpoints the key enhancements in Microsoft's new Visual Studio .NET 2003 development environment.
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Microsoft Visual Studio .NET 2003 (VS 2003), formerly codenamed Everett, doesn't introduce as much new functionality as the original Visual Studio .NET, also known as VS 2002. However, according to Microsoft at least, the learning curve for the new VS 2003 is much quicker. Released in April, Microsoft's latest integrated development environment (IDE) brings lots of cool new features to the developer's table, while at the same time enabling easy migration of existing applications.

Most important to developers who are considering the upgrade, VS 2003 offers new Java integration, extensive built-in mobile development, and support for Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1. The new IDE also adds a number of productivity enhancements that promise faster development, better application monitoring, and easier database connectivity, for instance. Meanwhile, Microsoft is separately releasing a series of PowerToys utilities that add more new capabilities to VS 2003. Here are the details on both VS 2003's best new features and the PowerToys.

New Features

VS 2003 includes plenty of new features. The following sections describe what I think are the best ones.

Java Support

VS 2003 brings first-time integration with Visual J#, a tool for Java developers who want to use Microsoft's .NET framework to build applications and XML Web services. Outside of Visual J#, VS 2003 also supports Visual Basic (VB), Visual C++, and Visual C# developers. The new IDE is available in Standard, Professional, Enterprise Developer, and Enterprise Architect editions.

.NET 1.1 Support

If you want to build applications supporting Microsoft's new .NET Framework 1.1, VS 2003 appears to be an absolute must. According to Microsoft, NET 1.1 provides increased scalability with support for up to 32 processors, along with improvements such as better mobile and database support. It also supports IPv6 and, for the ASP.NET platform only, tighter permissions lockdown through code access security.

Side-by-Side Development

For easier migration to the new development environment, you can run VS 2003 and .NET 1.1 side by side with VS 2002 and .NET 1.0.

This new capability is enabled by side-by-side execution, an enhancement in version 1.1 that permits execution of multiple versions of applications or components on the same computer.

However, successful side-by-side development assumes you have adequate disk space to run both frameworks and both IDEs. VS 2003 alone requires 900MB of available disk space on the system drive and 3.3GB of available space on the installation drive.

VS 2003 also includes a setting that lets you compile for either .NET 1.1 or .NET 1.0. Be careful, however, not to compile code to version 1.0 that requires brand-new capabilities in version 1.1.

You should also be aware that VS 2003 uses different file extensions than VB 2002. If you open a project already started in VS 2002, a pop-up appears informing you that the 2002 project is about to be converted to VS 2003 format.

Native Mobile Support

For VB and C# developers, VS 2003 comes with two types of native mobile support. By using VS 2003's built-in Compact Framework—together with Microsoft Windows Forms Designer—you can create applications for mobile devices running on the Pocket PC, the Pocket PC Phone Edition, or Windows CE .NET operating system.

Alternatively, VB and C# developers can use VS 2003's integrated ASP.NET Web Forms—along with VS .NET Designer—to build thin-client applications for more than 200 Web site META-enabled devices. The supported devices include WAP phones, pagers, and PDAs.

Better Database Support

VS 2003 also come with new managed data provider tools, for easier connectivity to Microsoft SQL Server, Microsoft Jet, Oracle, and ODBC databases.

Quicker Development

Also in VS 2003, Microsoft introduces enhancements to both code completion and IntelliSense. IntelliSense, a design-time assistant, now appears in the immediate window, for easier access.

Here's another time-saver that Microsoft has been demonstrating to developers and journalists. If you type Try at the beginning and end of the handling block, VS automatically inserts the stub code for the rest of the block.

Web Services

Other new tools in VS 2003 support the latest Web services standards, including WS-Security, WS-Routing, WS-Attachments, and Direct Internet Messaging (DIME).

Code Obfuscation

Also new in VS 2003 is a built-in utility for source code obfuscation.

In addition, VS developers can now download Microsoft's Enterprise Implementation Framework (EIF), a tool that the company promises lets you quickly add runtime monitoring to your applications.

The source code obfuscation tool, PreEmptive Dotfuscator Community Edition, is the "lite" version of a product from PreEmptive Solutions, a Microsoft ISV partner based in Cleveland. Microsoft says it included the tool to protect the intellectual property of programmers who distribute VS 2003 code, as well as to help developers reduce the size and improve the performance of mobile and other .NET applications. The tool is designed to render Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL), which is said to be very difficult, if not impossible, to reverse-engineer into comprehensible source code.

Improved Upgrade Wizard

Microsoft improved the VS Upgrade Wizard, a tool for VB developers only, with first-time support for user controls and Web classes.

The enhanced Upgrade Wizard is designed to automatically upgrade Visual Basic 6.0 projects when opened in VS 2003. The tool modifies the language for syntax changes, while also converting VB 6.0 forms.

The wizard also notifies developers when manual changes need to be made to code. To view the code statement, you navigate to the Task List window and double-click on the task item.

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