What is it?
Microsoft has always described Visual Studio as an integrated development environment (IDE), containing all the elements needed for the application lifecycle - from analysis and design to debugging, testing, deployment and access to external data sources.
However, up to and including version 6, Visual Studio included a number of different development environments, and developers working in more than one language - Visual C++, Visual Basic and Visual Interdev, for example - had to juggle between them.
With Visual Studio.net (VSN) - formerly known as Visual Studio 7 - Microsoft has finally delivered the promised IDE.
However, moving to VSN will involve major upheaval and retraining. It has been described as the biggest change to the Windows development environment since the launch of Visual Basic 10 years ago.
Where did it originate?
Microsoft says VSN has been in development for four years as part of the search for a common platform for building applications that could be delivered as reusable, interoperable services over the Internet. In other words, what Microsoft now calls Web Services.
What's it for?
VSN is a new development architecture, with new tools, that should, however, enable developers to carry on using familiar tools such as Visual Basic (VB) and Visual C++. According to Microsoft, the .net framework automatically takes care of much of the underlying infrastructure, allowing developers to focus on writing the business logic code specific to their applications. All Microsoft's own languages are included, and there are application programming interfaces for others, including Java and open source languages Python and Perl.
What makes it special?
Once mastered, a single IDE will shorten the time it takes developers to become productive and ease the integration of multi-language projects.
Components written in any language supported by .net can be mixed and matched. Some Microsoft languages are easier to use than others, and developers can choose the one they are familiar with. Non-technical staff can collaborate on Web application design.
How difficult is it?
It will probably be easier for newcomers than for some existing developers. The new interface has more in common with Visual C++ and Visual Interdev than VB. However, some of the more radical changes from VB6 to VB.net have been modified or shelved after widespread protests from developers. But changes will need to be made to existing VB and VB Script code before it will run under .net.
Where is it used?
In Microsoft-centric installations. With VSN and the new language C#, the Microsoft and Java camps are becoming more polarised.
Few people know that
Just because a product carries the .net suffix does not necessarily mean that it has been re-engineered for .net. SQL Server is a prime example - the first true .net server may not be available until 2003.
What does it run on?
Microsoft operating systems, although clients can be distributed to most desktops.
What's coming up?
The second beta version of VSN was released by Microsoft in June.
Microsoft is currently revamping its existing courses for .net and bringing out new ones. You will find free previews on the Microsoft Developer Network Web site ( msdn.microsoft.com).
For independent and free tutorials, try www.devx.com/dotnet, www.vbxtras.com and www.findtutorials.com.
Rates of pay
Developers able to work on multiple-language applications - or to manage projects - using Visual Studio can expect a salary of £40,000 or more.