Microsoft reinvents Visual Studio as an Azure cloud service

Updated Microsoft IDE for .Net 4.5.1, Visual Studio Online, runs on Windows Azure, sports pre-release version of in-browser IDE

Microsoft definitely doesn't want developers to eschew its cloud, that's for sure.

Redmond's latest additions to its arsenal of cloud-based resources are aimed squarely at developers, and while a new version of Visual Studio (2013) is part of that mix, there's an entirely new offering: Visual Studio Online.

Formerly branded as Team Foundation Service, Visual Studio Online is a Windows Azure-hosted development environment designed to work as an online complement to Visual Studio's desktop tools.

Most of the features offered through Visual Studio Online ought to be familiar territory, both for Microsoft and non-Microsoft developers. The hosted source control system, for instance, works with Microsoft's Team Foundation Version Control system, but will operate transparently with Git as well -- a nice tip of the hat to those who already have projects managed with Git and don't feel like scrapping it in favor of a Microsoft solution. Likewise, Visual Studio is the preferred software client for working with projects hosted in Visual Studio Online, but Eclipse and Xcode are supported too.

Other features show off all the more how this is meant to be a cloud-based development tool, not just a hosted repository. Microsoft is offering a hosted build service, where projects can be built in the cloud and the results delivered back to the desktop in Visual Studio, and 60 minutes of build time free each month, with more available depending on your subscription level.

Then there's Elastic Load Test Service, which lets you use Windows Azure to simulate user loads on your application by running the tests in the cloud. The amount of load you can simulate varies depending on your subscription level; Visual Studio Ultimate subscribers get up to 15,000 virtual user minutes per month.

More advanced developers can take advantage of the Application Insights service, which lets you collect and analyze live telemetry data from .Net, Java, and Windows Phone 8 applications (more frameworks are coming later).

Most striking of all is a project Microsoft has dubbed "Monaco," an in-browser IDE based on the same Web technology used to build Office 365 and Microsoft's file editor in SkyDrive. It's currently only available as a preview technology, but it'll be well worth seeing how it shapes up against the likes of similar projects like Codeanywhere, Cloud9, or Compilr.

It's unlikely the 1.0 or 2.0 version of Monaco, whatever it ends up being called (maybe "Visual Studio 365"?), will be robust enough to displace even the most modest desktop version of Visual Studio. Clearly Microsoft knows the browser is where a great many things are headed and doesn't want to be left behind any more than it already has, especially not when addressing its developer community. Even if the old guard among that crowd are still strongly desktop-centric, it's unlikely most of the people who start their coding career today are going to consider a top-heavy desktop production environment the ideal place to work.

To that end, Microsoft has also made it as easy as possible to get on board. Those who are on low budgets or just want to taste-test Visual Studio Online can snag a free copy of Visual Studio Express, and teams of up to five users can set up free Visual Studio Online accounts. Subscription plans are also available via existing MSDN subscriptions.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.