Microsoft widens the appeal of Visual Studio cross platform

ANALYSIS: A full free version of Visual Studio, open sourcing more of .NET and offering far more cross platform support gives Microsoft a much more compelling story for attracting developers to its tools by making them play well with others.

There are a billion smart devices in the world and more are being turned on every day, according to S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's developer division. "If you're a developer the opportunities have never been this high," he told IT Pro.

But supporting multiple devices and platforms can be expensive and complicated. Microsoft's announcements today should go some way towards making that easier and cheaper.

The introduction of WinRT and the emphasis on HTML5 instead of Silverlight may have left some .NET developers feeling uncertain about the future of a 12-year-old platform. Microsoft certainly isn't giving up on .NET; the preview version of .NET 2015 comes out today, with improvements in the desktop .NET 4.6 framework, and on-demand compilation with ASP.NET 5.

"[It's] the first ground-up redesigned web framework that is highly composable, flexible and optimised to run for the cloud, both public cloud on Azure and private cloud in Windows Server," Somasegar said.

"The shift to naming .NET by year rather than version isn't just to match the next release of Visual Studio (also available as a preview today); it's to mark that it's no longer a monolithic system where everything has to match.

"We are doing that because we want to establish a baseline to make it easy for developers to pick and choose how they want to rev different parts of the .NET framework."

But the really big news is that Microsoft is taking .NET far beyond its own platforms. Microsoft is making the full server-side .NET Core stack open source, through the .NET foundation.

"That's the full server-side runtime, from ASP.NET 5 at the top down to the base class libraries, the Common Language Runtime and everything in between," Somasegar told us.

Just as importantly, it's going cross platform to Linux and Mac OS X, in collaboration with the Mono community, to reach more developers. That's only for server-side .NET though; "for the client side we're going to continue partnering with Xamarin," he said.

This is about broadening the appeal of .NET, Somasegar added.

"We feel really good about the .NET ecosystem; there are about six million professional developers building .NET apps, ranging from the most mission critical workloads in enterprises to anything and everything else people care about building," he said.

"In the last 12 months there have been 1.8 billion installs of .NET - on devices, on servers and .NET installs on the cloud. Over the last 18 months, we've have been open sourcing part of the .NET stack in an effort to be more open. Now we're taking the next big step forward.

"We think this is going to be fantastic for .NET developers; you continue getting all the goodness and benefits of .NET and guess what you - you have a broader set of opportunities. And developers who say to us hey, I really have to be able to run my app on other platforms'; they can now see .NET as a very viable alternative and start building .NET apps."

Mobile and cloud

Xamarin's tools won't be the only way to write cross-platform .NET code either (although they will now work more closely together). Microsoft is replacing the limited free Express versions of Visual Studio with a far more powerful free version designed for cross-platform development, Visual Studio Community 2013.

"Think of Visual Studio Community as a fully functional and full-featured version that enables you to build apps targeted at the desktop to mobile devices, and targeted at the web to the cloud," said Somasegar.

"Pretty much any platform you want to target - iOS, Android and Windows on the front end or Linux and Windows on the back end with .NET you will be able to do that in the Community edition."

Mary Branscombe

Mary is a freelance business technology journalist who has written for the likes of ITPro, CIO, ZDNet, TechRepublic, The New Stack, The Register, and many other online titles, as well as national publications like the Guardian and Financial Times. She has also held editor positions at AOL’s online technology channel, PC Plus, IT Expert, and Program Now. In her career spanning more than three decades, the Oxford University-educated journalist has seen and covered the development of the technology industry through many of its most significant stages.

Mary has experience in almost all areas of technology but specialises in all things Microsoft and has written two books on Windows 8. She also has extensive expertise in consumer hardware and cloud services - mobile phones to mainframes. Aside from reporting on the latest technology news and trends, and developing whitepapers for a range of industry clients, Mary also writes short technology mysteries and publishes them through Amazon.