When Microsoft ships Windows Server 2003 in April, the product line will include the second-generation Visual Studio .NET software development suite. Dubbed Visual Studio .NET 2003 (formerly code-named Everett), this version of Microsoft's premier set of developer tools adds important new features and better support for Windows CE .NET mobile devices.

It's Not a Service Pack
Visual Studio .NET 2003 is an incremental release (and not a major new release, as the previous version was), but it's not a service pack. This distinction means that no relatively lightweight download will be available to ease your upgrade from Visual Studio .NET to Visual Studio .NET 2003. Instead, developers must download two massive DVD-sized International Organization for Standardization (ISO) images to upgrade. But the good news is the price. Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) members can download Visual Studio .NET 2003 for free, and other Visual Studio .NET customers can upgrade for just $29.

Support for New Technologies
Visual Studio .NET 2003 supports a variety of new technologies, including Web services standards such as WS-Attachment and WS-Security. For professional developers, Visual Studio .NET 2003 includes advanced C++ features such as 98-percent conformity with the latest ISO specification for the language. Visual C++ .NET also includes support for the Windows Form technologies that debuted in Visual Basic .NET and C# last year. Visual Basic (VB) users will appreciate the suite's improved wizards for migrating legacy code to the new environment. Also, a new Visual J# tool should ease migration of Java code to .NET.

Target Mobile Devices
One of Visual Studio .NET 2003's most important new features is its integration with the final version of the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework. The integration lets developers target mobile devices, such as Pocket PCs and Windows Powered Smartphones, that are based on Windows CE .NET technology. Microsoft says that this framework supports more than 200 devices; however, the company has expressed no interest in supporting Palm OSĀ­based devices or various popular cell-phone platforms, which could pose a problem for some enterprises.

Recommendations
Visual Studio .NET 2003 is a strong upgrade, and given its negligible price, it's a no-brainer for any developer using the current version. Furthermore, VB developers who skipped out on Visual Studio .NET might consider Visual Studio .NET 2003 because of its enhanced application migration tools. However, for shops that want to integrate their back-end systems with mobile devices based on non-Microsoft technologies, Visual Studio .NET 2003 won't help. In such cases, developers will have to look elsewhere for solutions. In the meantime, there are few, if any, barriers to moving to this new release. Give it a look.