Early in September, Microsoft will deliver its application development suite, Visual Studio 6.0, which will serve as the company's primary beachhead to establish application server technology that links Windows systems to a wide variety of Internet-based applications.
The company is also taking this step to make sure that the Component Object Model (COM) framework links to legacy systems and data. The move is part of the rush to provide the tools and transactional engines to allow rapid development of applications using familiar tools that span three-tier enterprise architectures.
Visual Studio 6.0, debuting at a series of so-called DevDays nationwide in September, includes Visual Basic 6.0, Visual C++ 6.0, Visual J++ 6.0, Visual FoxPro 6.0, and Visual InterDev 6.0.
"This is a huge step in the right direction. It does so much more for building enterprise applications," said Greg Leake, lead product manager for Visual Studio at Microsoft. "Build [the applications] on the language you already know."
The tools suite, which ships with a copy of Windows NT 4.0 and BackOffice, will be the last major tools release by Microsoft before the introduction of Windows NT 5.0 in the second half of 1999, according to Leake.
Visual Studio on Intel and Alpha NT servers will be priced at $US1619 for the Enterprise version, and $US1079 for the Pro version.
Whether the service set writes in Java, C++, or Visual Basic, developers can use the bundled set of services in Visual Studio 6.0 to write to a Web architecture that uses Visual InterDev. Developers can then cobble together COM-based components into Active Server Pages that run off the Microsoft Transaction Server in Windows NT.
The applications can be accessed by Windows or Web-browser clients, according to Leake.
"Within NT you've got the services coming together to make the OS competitive as an app ser-ver platform," said Vernon Keenan, founding analyst at Keenan Vision, in San Francisco.
"The tools make it extremely formidable because they have created an army of developers for this strategy."
Although Microsoft's Windows NT and tools strategy places the company on course for adoption by the largest enterprises, the robustness of the Visual Studio/NT technology still has catching up to do compared with IBM, BEA, and Oracle, according to Daryl Plummer, an analyst at the Gartner Group in Atlanta.
"I would not consider it a strong strategy, but an effective one," Plummer said. "It's not such a robust app server, not as robust as BEA or [IBM] CICS. It's limited by NT and it's new, but it's effective. You can get stuff done reasonably quickly, and it works."
Visual Studio puts a lot of products together but does not really integrate them, Plummer added.
"It needs more management and control." However, other users believe that the tools themselves do not offer a reason to upgrade to Version 6.0.
"I'm not sure I see a lot of need for us to upgrade. We are just now getting to the point that our questions aren't just about the basics," said Craig Andera, a system architect at GMAC Residential Funding, in Minneapolis.
"You throw a new technology in there and it's like a monkey wrench," Andera said.