Microsoft open-sources server-side .Net, launches Visual Studio 2015 preview

In a dramatic shift, Microsoft takes a big step into open source, with the aim of spreading Microsoft development across iOS, Android, OS X, and Linux

open door

Microsoft’s long and contentious relationship with open source reached a major milestone today, when the company announced at its invitation-only Connect() event for developers in New York that it would open-source the entire server-side .Net stack and launch a new open source version of its flagship IDE, dubbed Visual Studio Community. The company also gave a preview of Visual Studio 2015 and .Net 2015.

Microsoft .Net has been at the heart of Microsoft’s developer strategy for more than a decade, with Version 1.0 released in 2003. What was once a completely proprietary technology has become more and more open over the last couple of years, with Microsoft supporting the development of the open source Mono tools, and with the birth of the .Net Foundation to govern the open source components of the stack -- including the Roslyn compiler.

Today, Microsoft announced that it will open-source the entire server-side .Net stack -- everything from the ASP.Net Web tools, through the languages, and even the underlying .Net runtime. Working through the .Net Foundation, the initial release will be a selection of libraries, with the rest of the stack releasing over the next few months.

.Net comes to Linux and OS X in expanded cross-platform push

Soma Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's Developer Division, notes that open-sourcing .Net will enable .Net apps to run everywhere. “It’ll mean the .Net server-side stack will be running on Linux and Mac as well,” Somasegar tells InfoWorld. Development of the open source .Net platform will be done with the existing Mono community, Somasegar says. “We’re going to collaborate with them on the cross-platform server-side stack.”

This doesn’t mean the work on cross-platform client-side .Net will stop. “We’re going to continue partnering deeply with Xamarin,” Somasegar says. That’s borne out by the upcoming release of Visual Studio, which will make it easier to add Xamarin tools to support iOS and Android development alongside Windows apps.

The new Community version is free for everyone but enterprise

Microsoft is also changing how it licenses its flagship Visual Studio development suite, launching a new Community edition, with the aim of making it more accessible to a wider set of developers. Available for free today, Visual Studio Community 2013 will be a fully featured version, with support for mobile, desktop, Web, and cloud. Although it will be free for hobbyist, independent, and open source developers, the Visual Studio Community license won’t allow it to be used for enterprise application development.

Unlike the earlier free Express versions of Visual Studio (which it will eventually replace), Visual Studio Community will also support Visual Studio extensions, with access to a gallery of add-ons. Somasegar suggests that giving developers access to the gallery will be good for the Visual Studio ecosystem: “Extension writers get access to more developers, and developers will get a richer set of tools.” He adds, "It lets them move up the value chain, with a broader set of Visual Studio users for them to address.”

The Visual Studio release schedule will accelerate

Microsoft has begun to change how it delivers Visual Studio, with Somasegar saying that “we want to be on a faster cadence.” That new, faster cadence has been shown by a series of updates to Visual Studio 2013. With 7 million copies in use, most of the existing customer base is already using Update 3, with Update 4 launching today. And Update 4 is not the only Visual Studio update launching today; so too are public previews of the next major releases, Visual Studio 2015 and .Net 2015.

What's new in Visual Studio 2015

As with any Visual Studio release, there are plenty of new features in Visual Studio 2015, with a strong focus on building cross-platform applications. For example, .Net apps will use the new Roslyn compiler, and developers building for devices get improved HTML5 and JavaScript tools, plus better tooling for Apache’s Cordova mobile app framework and a new set of Android emulators. On the server side, Microsoft adds support for Clang and the LVVM toolset alongside its own C++ compilers -- with extra support for Android (and iOS soon) game development.

Web developers get a completely redesigned version of the ASP.Net Web framework, with a focus on both public and private cloud applications. Cloud development is a key element of the new Visual Studio, with the latest Azure SDK built in and with improved API management tooling through its connected services manager. The connected services manager is an API catalog, making Microsoft and third-party services easier to use inside your development tools. Architects and development managers will be able to use Azure’s API management tools to control access to unapproved APIs and services.

Visual Studio’s cloud component, Visual Studio Online, also gets a substantial upgrade. Somasegar says this is part of a move to address more than just developers, saying, “Our goal is to be able to deliver end-to-end devops services for highly agile, continuous development and delivery.”

Perhaps the most interesting new feature is what can best be described as “release management as a service,” with an automated release management pipeline hosted on Azure. You’ll be able to automatically provision and build apps, deploying onto a development/test environment on Azure. As part of the build process you’ll also be able to automate testing, with smart unit tests based on Microsoft Research’s PEX project.

Cloud-hosted release management also lets you deliver apps for many more operating systems. In addition, Visual Studio Online will include a cross-platform build service for building for Java, Android, iOS, and OS X. “We want to head in the direction of supporting other platforms, getting the ecosystem to extend in interesting ways. We really want to make sure it is a devops service for any developer working on any application, on any platform,” Somasegar says.

Microsoft’s rapid change of direction has left many developers wondering about its commitment to its platform and to the tools they use every day. Today’s announcements will go a long way to clearing up those questions, with a new free tier of the Visual Studio IDE opening up Windows development to a wider constituency, and with a commitment to an open future for .Net.

Although Microsoft’s own horizons may well lie beyond Windows, it’s bringing developers along on the journey by giving them the cross-platform tools they’ll need in that new world.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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