Sampling Visual Studio 2005

Beta 3 of Visual Studio 2005 TFS reveals a slick Web-based development collaboration server

Earlier this week, Microsoft released Beta 3 of Visual Studio 2005 TFS (Team Foundation Server). Turns out my developers are always interested in seeing competitors to CVS, and the moniker Beta 3 seemed safe enough for them. So whilst I was gnashing my teeth over what turned out to be another last-second Vinatieri victory for my beloved Pats, these geeks were installing TFS on a spare Windows server.

When I heard this, I figured today would be a loss, as they’d probably be up all night getting the thing to work. Turns out they were done in time to retire and watch Rome, so I figured I’d share their impressions for anyone who might be managing an in-house Visual Studio development project. For those unlucky folks, a little sun is shining through: Beta 3 is apparently a significant step up from the previous iteration in terms of the installation smoothies. This really had my dev guys impressed as the new beta seems to auto-configure even the required underlying services, such as SQL Server services.

A few things you’d better have before you start, however. First, you need an MSDN subscription because that’s the only way to access the beta -- for the moment -- and the all-important installation guide. Then you'll need the Visual Studio 2005 Release Candidate 1 as well as the SQL Server 2005 Community Technology Preview that was made available to last month’s PDC (Professional Developers Conference) attendees. You’ll also want to be sure to have SP1 running on your Windows Server 2003 machine, and anything with a Beta in the name had better be a dedicated box.

When you’re done, you actually get a slick Web-based development collaboration server. The whole thing runs as a centralized Web service and has specific features for all the usual code-management features, including source code and version control, change management, reporting, a hook to project server (portal version), and work item tracking. The Web-service approach is nice because it can leverage your existing SQL Server backup process for reliability and recovery and uses HTTPS for on-network security. Though, again, you’ll need to have SQL Server 2005 implemented, as TFS requires a number of SQL Server 2005’s new analysis tools to function.

Configuring TFS is a matter of identifying all your project’s "work items." This boils down to a generic term name that TFS assigns to all the molecules of your dev project: a date, a bug, a task, whatever. Building your TFS project means identifying and fleshing out all these work items, which TFS will then push out to all related systems.

The result is a nicely integrated solution. For example, though my guys didn’t implement it, TFS apparently integrates directly with Microsoft Project Portal. That means that managers can access TFS information without ever having to hit Visual Studio. Just fire up Project, access your portal and find your project there. TFS automatically updates the Portal with all relevant information.

For Visual Studio folks, this is definitely the way to manage team projects. No word yet that I could find on pricing, but the shipping version is on track for first quarter 2006. Meantime, it’s worth taking Beta 3 for a test drive, as installation really isn’t much of a headache any longer -- as long as you’ve got all the right components.