|Visual Studio Offers Tools Platform|
|Mar. 11, 2002|
Visual Studio .NET gives third-party tool vendors access to the same interfaces that Microsoft uses to build its own tools (such as Visual Basic), making it easier for vendors to build tools that extend Microsoft's popular development environment. However, Microsoft has also introduced a new Enterprise Architect Edition of Visual Studio, which adds features that were previously only available from third parties. This is good news for developers because it offers better tools for Windows and .NET, but it represents both a threat and an opportunity for third-party tool vendors.
New Program Benefits Tool Vendors
Microsoft has long had programs to encourage third-party developers to fill gaps in the Visual Studio product line by building complementary products. Visual Studio .NET takes this strategy a step further by introducing a new Visual Studio API and improving its support program for third parties.
The Visual Studio .NET Integration Program (VSIP) allows licensees to integrate new tools and programming languages into Visual Studio. For an annual fee of US$10,000, vendors have access to the Visual Studio API, allowing their tools to add components to projects, insert new code or modify existing code in projects (regardless of the programming language being used), and define entirely new project types. Vendors can use these new capabilities in several ways:
Extending Microsoft tools. Some tool vendors offer products that improve upon functions already included in Visual Studio. For instance, Visual Studio includes some support for measuring application performance, but CompuWare is using VSIP to integrate its performance tools, which offer many more features than Microsoft's.
Adding new life-cycle tools. Over the past few releases of Visual Studio, Microsoft has been moving beyond the "edit-compile-debug" portion of the development cycle by adding features for application design and deployment. Nevertheless, many third-party vendors specialize in application design and deployment and have more features in their products or support specific application modeling techniques. By giving these vendors access to the API, VSIP allows them to produce products that are more integrated with Visual Studio and easier for customers to use.
Incorporating new languages. One of the most notable aspects of VSIP is that it enables Visual Studio to be used with non-Microsoft programming languages. This enables programmers who are using legacy languages, such as COBOL and Fortran, to build .NET applications from Visual Studio. It is also potentially significant for new programming languages. Apart from scripting languages, such as Perl and Python, few new programming languages have gained commercial acceptance in recent years, partly because of the work necessary to produce the kind of graphical development environment that professional developers expect. VSIP gives language products such as ActiveState Perl and Fujitsu COBOL—as well as new languages created by university researchers—a chance at broader acceptance, since their creators will be able to build on the features of Visual Studio instead of building a development environment themselves.
VSIP is part of an overall Microsoft strategy to use the popularity of its developer tools to push adoption of the .NET development platform. In the past, Microsoft has been successful at establishing a platform and building an API for itself and other companies to build upon and extend the platform (Windows being the perfect example). In this case, Visual Studio becomes its own platform—Microsoft hopes that by encouraging third parties to extend Visual Studio, it will be able to offer customers a broader set of features and tools than it could produce by itself.
New Enterprise Architect Edition
At the same time that it is making Visual Studio a more attractive platform for third parties, Microsoft is introducing a new Enterprise Architect Edition, which adds application and database modeling tools based on Visio. These types of tools were previously available only from third parties such as CompuWare and Rational.
The apparent contradiction of releasing this new edition while at the same time inviting tool vendors to use Visual Studio as a platform highlights one of the difficulties third-party vendors will face: weighing the benefits of VSIP against potential direct competition from Microsoft.
Threats and Opportunities for Tool Vendors
Tool vendors who take advantage of VSIP will be able to build products that are better integrated with Visual Studio than they otherwise could. However, the Enterprise Architect Edition makes it clear that vendors also face potential competition from Microsoft, which will undoubtedly continue to add features to its own high-end tools products. Therefore, managing its relationship with Microsoft will be an important piece of any tool vendor's strategy.
In addition, vendors must decide how much effort they want to devote to customizing their tools specifically for Visual Studio. Although Visual Studio is the most popular development environment for the Microsoft platform, tools for other platforms, such as IBM Visual Age for Java, are also widely used. Any integration work that tool vendors do with Visual Studio could not be leveraged to those other tools.
Information on VSIP is available at msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/partners/.
More information on the Enterprise Architect Edition of Visual Studio can be found at msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/productinfo/.
For a review of the different editions of Visual Studio and their prices, see "Visual Studio .NET Launched" on page 16 of the Mar. 2002 Update.
For more background on Visual Studio .NET, see the Feb. 2002 Research Report, "The .NET Development Platform".