Microsoft open-sources .Net server-side cloud stack

The company is embarking on a broad-based strategy for mobile and cloud development, including major upgrades to Visual Studio

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Microsoft is tackling cloud and mobile development and rolling out a multifaceted software development strategy that involves open-sourcing, cross-platform support, and tools upgrades.

Looking to attract more developers, Microsoft is offering its full server-side cloud stack for .Net via open source. The .Net Core stack will be open-sourced, including the runtime and class libraries, and .Net will be expanded to run on Mac OS X and Linux in addition to Windows. "This will enable a broad ecosystem around .Net that is all out in the open," S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Microsoft developer division, said in an interview, explaining that developers get access to source code and an opportunity to more fully participate in the stack's development.

"That is going to enable .Net developers to build .Net apps that can run on Windows, can run on Linux, and can run on the Mac," said Somasegar. Microsoft also wants to work with the Mono community, which also has a cross-platform stack for .Net, and figure out how to converge to a single stack. "We don't want to compete with the Mono community," Somasegar said.

Somasegar pointed out that the .Net server-side stack could be seen as an alternative to Java. "Java is a full programming stack," he noted. "People can pick and choose whether they want to write programs to .Net or to Java."

Microsoft's open source and cross-platform moves are a big deal, according to analyst Jeffrey Hammond of Forrester Research. "Essentially it uncouples .Net from Windows on the server," he said. "If clients want to run ASP.Net apps on Linux on Azure or AWS -- no problem. Remember, only four years ago the Windows group was shutting down cross-platform Silverlight. This is a pretty big shift, away from everything depending on Windows."

Today's public preview of Visual Studio 2015 and .Net 2015 showcases a set of integrated tools for building cross-platform mobile applications for iOS, Android, or Windows, with developers able to use HTML, JavaScript, C# or C++, Somasegar said. Visual Studio 2015 also features compiler capabilities from the Roslyn project, with C# and Visual Basic compilers with code analysis APIs.

Visual Studio 2015 features a Connected Services tool to expose Microsoft or third-party services via a REST API for integration with applications. Microsoft is also previewing a Visual Studio Emulator for Android and is showing off a redesigned ASP.Net, for building applications to run on private and public clouds. "It's really a new framework that is designed to run optimally in the cloud," Somasegar said. Applications can be run on Windows, Linux, and Mac.

Microsoft wants to make Windows Azure the dominant cloud platform by easing the development and deployment of applications to consume Azure services, said Forrester analyst Kurt Bittner. "Open-sourcing .Net creates a de facto standard for cloud service APIs. By opening up Visual Studio, they expand the appeal of VS for cross-platform developers creating applications that will run well on the Azure cloud platform."

Microsoft also is releasing Visual Studio Community, a free product for non-enterprise-level application development. It can be used to build applications for the Web, the cloud, mobile, or the desktop, and unlike Microsoft's Visual Studio Express products, which each had a single target platform, Visual Studio Community supports multiple platforms. The plan is that Express products eventually would be discontinued in favor of the Community edition. Community is limited to five developers per site and lacks capabilities for building line-of-business applications, Somasegar said, but it allows users to run Visual Studio extensions, such as ReSharper, for refactoring.

Finally, today marks the release of Visual Studio 2013 Update 4. It features JSON and HTML editors upgrades, a GPU usage tool, to determine performance bottlenecks, and enhancements to the Team Foundation Server application lifecycle management server, which will feature Git Pull Requests and improvements to work planning and test case management. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Visual Studio Online ALM service will increase its devops capabilities, offering release management as a service, which previously was only available to on-premise installations.

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