At its TechEd 2011 keynote on Monday, Microsoft revealed its plans for the next major version of its software development suite, which for now goes by the moniker Visual Studio vNext. The announcements come on the heels of a big year for Visual Studio, which saw a major release just a year ago, followed by four feature packs since then.

As has been the case with other announcements at TechEd 2011, the Visual Studio vNext are an interesting mix of new information and a reinforcement of the notion that Microsoft's solutions are all intertwined, working better together and providing users with logical migration paths not found with the competition. So Visual Studio isn't so much a standalone tool for developers, but a stepping stone to new opportunities with other Microsoft platforms, such as SharePoint, Office, and the cloud.

"We've got some new stuff we haven't shown to anyone before, but we're also going to go through and talk about new features that we're bringing out with System Center and Visual Studio and Office, giving us capabilities to be able to manage software, build great software, pull it all together," Microsoft Corporate Vice President Jason Zander said during the address. "And we all know that we're getting a proliferation of devices. We want you to be able to target all these devices, as well as be able to put lots of software and technology into the cloud as well."

To that end, Visual Studio vNext will be used to create applications and services that run in Microsoft's public and private cloud environments, as well as on mobile devices that can be managed by the software giant's coming generation of System Center servers. It will include application lifecycle management (ALM) and collaboration improvements, Zander noted, and an improved user experience.

Less conceptually, Microsoft's core strength with developers has always been the quality of its tools and the ubiquity of its solutions. A developer who learns ASP .NET coding for the web can easily move to SharePoint development, for example. Experience with the C# programming language transfers neatly to any Microsoft development environment, including Silverlight and Windows Phone. And as Microsoft moves more quickly into the cloud, these skills become all the more valuable, since the coding environments there are likewise similar or even identical.

No word yet on the timing for Visual Studio vNext, but given the release cadence of previous versions, an early 2012 release is likely.