Microsoft Orcas Beta 1 hints at a killer IDE on the horizon

Innovations to Visual Studio include greater support for key technologies such as WPF

While the Visual Studio team at Microsoft has been burning the midnight oil for some 18 months to bring us Orcas Beta 1, the CLR (Common Language Runtime) team has been hammering away on .Net Framework 3.5 Beta 1. Happily, all the effort appears to be paying off.

Microsoft has three major goals for Orcas: improve developer productivity; manage application lifecycles through TFS (Team Foundation Server); and employ the latest technologies -- not just improved support for .Net Framework 3.5, but also WPF (Windows Presentation Foundation), ASP.Net AJAX, and Silverlight.

The Virtual PC version I tested did not include TFS, so I can't speak to the application lifecycle management first hand. On the other hand, it seems clear that Microsoft will meet its other two goals.

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One major improvement is a new design surface for WPF applications. This surface uses the familiar drag, drop, and set properties paradigm, but improves on past designers by displaying the XAML source simultaneously with the graphical design pane. Other designer improvements are a revamped Web designer with better CSS support, and an updated C++ designer that supports the Vista look and feel as well as the thousands of new Vista APIs.

The inclusion of Visual Studio Tools for Office in the core product is welcome, but more of a packaging decision than a technical improvement. On the other hand, the Orcas multitargeting facility is something I've wanted for years: I might finally be able to delete my old Visual Studio versions and develop for all versions of the .Net Framework from one IDE.

LINQ (Language Integrated Query) is a new language facility for C# and Visual Basic .Net that I have been tracking for about a year. It offers an elegant way to build data awareness into source code. This beta has what looks like a complete LINQ implementation, as well as a new object/relational designer and the new SQL Server Compact Edition local database.

I haven't been able to crash Orcas Beta 1 at all. I initially encountered some performance issues, but I was able to ameliorate them by giving the Virtual PC more RAM and turning off its undo disks.

Orcas Beta 1, as well as .Net Framework 3.5 Beta 1, are available now for free download, assuming you have enough Internet bandwidth and disk space to handle upward of 5GB of material.