Application development tools focus on team process and code quality

Software development tool vendors focus on process and code quality, prepare for multicore CPUs

It was a year that saw the resurgence of old tools and the redesign of new ones. Static code analysis, which was abandoned long ago, became the latest craze in 2005 following concerns about security, code quality, and code ownership. Today, impressive offerings in all three areas are available; 18 months ago, the vendors themselves barely existed. Likely, these products will coalesce and one or two packages will emerge that can perform all three forms of code analysis.

Despite only a minor update in 2005, the much-heralded, oft-awarded Eclipse project enjoyed a breakout year, attracting partners and inducing them to forgo their IDEs in favor of Eclipse plug-ins. The hold-outs -- notably, Apple Computer, Microsoft, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems -- showed how much can be accomplished when companies follow their own vision rather than play along as part of a consortium. Oracle did a yeoman's job revving JDeveloper 10.1.3 into one of the best free Java IDEs. And we found plenty to get excited about in Apple's Xcode 2.2, especially its new cross-platform and object mapping capabilities.

But there is no question that Microsoft's Visual Studio 2005, once known as Whidbey, is the most important release among IDEs in 2005. Technically, VS 2005 is masterfully done. Microsoft, however, earns credit not only for technology but also for the way it designed the IDE and brought it to market.

Visual Studio 2005 is made from the best stuff: the imaginations, frustrations, and workflow work-arounds of Microsoft's own developers. It dawned on Microsoft that its approach to internal development was counterproductive. Instead of mounting its huge product line atop hundreds of reinvented wheels, Microsoft drove toward a unified, end-to-end toolset. If you want to know what developers need, ask developers.

Microsoft extended Visual Studio's reach in all directions. Developers with tight budgets and limited requirements can get Visual Studio Express Editions. At the high end of the Visual Studio 2005 product hierarchy is VSTS (Visual Studio Team System), which provides developer collaboration, issue tracking, QA, automated builds, and robust source-code control -- all uncharted territories for Microsoft, which has always left such critical things to third-party plug-ins. By wiring VSTS into Visual Studio, Microsoft transformed its toolset into an instant and consistent enterprise development system of surprisingly little complexity. While the Java IDEs have had many of these features for a while, Microsoft did a superb job of integrating them and making them simple to use.

In 2006, we expect developer tools to focus more on threading issues as multicore processors become widely accepted on PCs and notebooks. Visual Studio 2005 added the OpenMP portable threading library for just this purpose. We expect that the tools needed to resolve the unique problems posed by threads will become much more prominent both in IDEs and as stand-alone solutions and will lead the final rejection of the single-threaded program model.