Microsoft is planning to build a lifecycle management tool called Visual Studio 2005 Team System to help IT directors streamline software development.
A component of its Dynamic Systems Initiative (DSI) application management model, the product is expected to be available in the first half of next year as part of the Visual Studio 2005 product suite. It will offer integrated design, development and testing to allow software architects and testers to collaborate in the design and development of service-oriented applications.
To date, the Microsoft Visual Studio .net development suite has aimed to improve the productivity of individual programmers by offering design wizards, templates and debugging tools.
However, Microsoft said users were finding it increasingly challenging to manage the lifecycle of software development, as software teams become more specialised and geographically distributed.
Steve Ballmer, chief executive at Microsoft, said, "In order to take advantage of new business opportunities and effectively manage up-front and lifetime IT costs, it is important for customers to look at the entire IT lifecycle - from application development to operations and management - and to choose a software platform that provides strong tools, ecosystem partnerships, security and support."
Microsoft said the Team System is designed to increase the predictability of the software development process, shorten the development lifecycle, and allow IT departments to deliver greater business value.
Mark Quirk, head of technology in Microsoft's developer and platform group, said, "We are not trying to solve every single problem: it is an extensible system, so users and third-party suppliers can add functionality."
Commenting on Team System, Michael Azoss, senior research analyst at Butler Group, said, "This is a very good move on the part of Microsoft, and it is very useful for .net developers."
Butler examined Microsoft's lifecycle tools in a report published in November and found them lacking, said Azoss.
"There is a huge gap between Microsoft Project Manager and Visual Studio .net. But now, Microsoft has a complete lifecycle vision, in the same way that IBM and Compuware have," he said. Azoss added that Team System will raise the quality bar for lifecycle management, which will benefit users.
Bola Rotiba, senior analyst for software development strategy at Ovum, said Team System should increase the level of predictability of software architecture and associated testing times, and add the ability to trace software artefacts. "The question is whether they can deliver, and what they will deliver," she said.
In a research paper earlier this year, Gartner said the Microsoft Team System would have a significant impact on the complete distributed application lifecycle. "Ultimately, more focus on the software development lifecycle will benefit the customer," said analyst Theresa Lanowitz.
New tools from Microsoft
Microsoft is planning to develop a Visual Studio .net add-on, called Web Services Enhancements 2.0, for building secure web services. It has also released a technical beta of the Microsoft Office Information Bridge Framework, a set of tools to rapidly build metadata-driven smart-client software.
Choice of tools for integrated software development
The main alternative to Microsoft in the software development lifecycle market comes from the increasingly popular open source Eclipse Integrated Development Environment (IDE). This Java-based environment is backed by suppliers including Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel and SAP, and it has a strong support community.
Another popular choice is the Netbeans IDE open source software development tool from Sun Microsystems. Both open source environments compete with Microsoft's .net infrastructure.
At the high-end of the lifecycle management market are tools such as IBM's Rational Unified Process. IBM completed its £1.2bn acquisition of Rational in February 2003, and it has integrated Rational's application development tools into Websphere.
Borland's J Builder, Optimal J from Compuware, and Mercury Interactive's Mercury Application Management are other lifecycle management options.
Serena, which agreed to acquire competitor Merant in March, is an option for users who need change management. Its version control system will plug into Microsoft's IDE.
Analyst firm Gartner said, "Whereas, historically, Microsoft's product and marketing focus has been on the developer, the approach taken by Microsoft in its new tools will enable all parties involved in a project to think in a more holistic versus code-centric fashion.
"The myth of 'you aren't working if you aren't coding' will be shattered as IT organisations begin to think and work in integrated environments."