POWER USER

Visual Studio dots the Net with Web services

John McCormick

Despite security concerns about Microsoft Corp.'s Passport authentication initiative, the chances are good that many Windows users will find themselves dealing with the company's .Net computing paradigm'not next year but soon.

.Net can Web-enable almost any application via Java and Extensible Markup Language. And development goes fast through .Net Framework, a programming model that encompasses clients, servers and services.

I've been trying out a prerelease version of Visual Studio.Net, a robust, 32-bit Windows programming environment that arrived on seven CD-ROMs. A full installation can easily occupy 2G of storage.

The .Net Framework developer's kit automatically creates all the needed XML and Simple Object Access Protocol interfaces to turn an application into a Web service. Visual Basic users can say goodbye to VB and hello to C#.Net and VB.Net. In fact, the main surprise in Visual Studio.Net is object-oriented VB. The change is so big that many developers might want to skip VB.Net and go straight to the more powerful C#.Net. The learning curve will be about the same, and VB.Net has more verbose syntax.

The only major development feature missing from the prerelease Visual Studio.Net I tried was a new Java tool, Visual J#.Net, which won't arrive until later this year.

The integrated writing and debugging environment is independent of the programming language. All .Net languages use the same application programming interfaces. You can migrate old VB code, but you'll have to change to the new languages and tools to continue support under .Net.

For many developers, .Net won't require learning a new language at all. Visual Studio.Net supports cross-language programming in 25 languages including older ones such as Ada, Cobol, Pearl and SmallTalk. They all compile into a Microsoft Intermediate Language and produce nearly identical code when used for the same task.

A single debugger works for the code produced by all the languages. With the intermediate language, even developers using different languages can reuse each other's code.

Visual Studio.Net continues the use of wizards to speed code generation. But the enterprise editions, Enterprise Architect and Enterprise Developer, introduce templates that steer you toward architectural best practices.

Web page development goes faster because projects are broken into assemblies, or code blocks, with their own version numbers. Multiple versions can exist on a single system, which greatly reduces problems caused by shared libraries.

Web developers will love the fact that with Active Server Page.Net, the HTML and executable code are kept separate'code jockeys and HTML scripters can work on the same pages. ASP.Net creates pages faster, and its integrated remote debugging should ease maintenance chores.

When you create a Web form in Visual Studio.Net, it generates two files, one containing HTML and the other, VB.Net/C# code. If an ASP.Net page is requested, the server merges the files and sends HTML code to the browser. The compiled code is also stored to make future access fast.

Visual Studio.Net costs $1,079 for the basic kit and $2,499 for the enterprise version.

John McCormick is a free-lance writer and computer consultant. E-mail him at powerusr@yahoo.com.

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