Microsoft has made Visual Studio .NET so easy to use that technologists outside the realm of software development are beginning to use the tool to build prototypes and pilot projects.

I've received many reader email messages containing interesting questions about the best way to begin using Visual Studio .NET, the tool for building Microsoft .NET applications. I'll answer those questions and speculate on a few more .NET-related subjects in the balance of this article.

Microsoft has made Visual Studio .NET so easy to use that technologists outside the realm of software development are beginning to use the tool to build prototypes and pilot projects. Network and infrastructure folks are using Visual Studio .NET to build prototypes that help in the design and research process of larger software projects. Program managers, product managers, and project managers are using the tool to build prototype and pilot applications in the enterprise, too. I've heard many stories of nondeveloper technical people actually building prototype and pilot applications that they "throw over the wall" to developers; Visual Studio .NET has let users become involved in projects by building prototype and pilot solutions. I believe that Visual Studio .NET is facilitating the beginning of a software revolution.

Mike Iem, a product manager on Microsoft's Visual Basic .NET team, confirmed that software is taking a leap forward. "I remember back to the mainframe days when smart end users or knowledge workers \[e.g., MBAs, engineers\] in corporations wanted better access to data," Iem said. "Specifically, they wanted to turn data into information using decision-support tools that were coming out. But that's pretty difficult when all your data is locked up in a mainframe. So, being the smart and resourceful people they were, they installed tools like dBase, Visual Basic, and Graphic Query Language on their PCs and used \[tools such as\] Data Access Language and ODBC to get at the databases in those glass houses.

"One day, the CIO wakes up and finds that the mainframe data is old and users have created new applications on PCs linked via LANs. And the glass-house mainframe developers and IT guys are scratching their heads wondering what happened. I think technologies like XML Web Services and no-touch deployment are shaking up the corporations again, and users are pushing IT to grow and take advantage of the new technology that solves today's problems better."

Building prototypes of software applications is the easy part of the software-development process. Defining requirements, researching, and designing the applications make up the hard part. Prototypes of the application help the customer actually think through the functional design of the application. Often, a prototype serves as the main component of a functional specification. In recent years, developers used tools such as Microsoft FrontPage to build Web application prototypes, but FrontPage isn't a good tool for dynamic Web sites that communicate with databases. But using Visual Studio .NET, anyone can build functional Web application prototypes. And as nondevelopers become familiar with the Visual Studio .NET tool, they'll build and deploy applications in production.

So why does a programming tool such as Visual Studio .NET make a software developer's life so much easier? Because of the controls available in the toolbox and because of automatic code generation. Web developers can use Visual Studio .NET to do most of their work because the tool automatically generates a significant part of the code when you're building a Web application.

Some readers have asked me for recommendations about the best resources for learning about Visual Studio .NET. Would you believe more than 300 books about Microsoft .NET have been published and only 1 is dedicated entirely to Visual Studio .NET? That book is "Effective Visual Studio .NET" (Wrox Press, 2002) by David DeLoveh, et al.

My favorite book is "ASP.NET Developer's JumpStart" (Addison Wesley, 2002) by Paul D. Sheriff and Ken Getz. This book teaches you how to use ASP.NET, Visual Basic .NET, and Visual Studio .NET to build real-world business applications on the Web. Another excellent book is "Developing Web Applications with Visual Basic .NET and ASP.NET" (John Wiley & Sons, 2002) by John Alexander and Billy Hollis. However, both of these books cover building Web applications, not Windows applications, with Visual Studio .NET. Carlos Guevara, a leader in the software development industry, thinks "SAMS Teach Yourself Visual Basic .NET in 24 Hours" (SAMS, 2002) by James D. Foxall is the best book for the absolute beginner that wants an easy place to start.

I believe that Visual Studio .NET has started a software revolution that will lead to the creation of project teams of diverse backgrounds that will design, develop, and deploy powerful software applications faster and more efficiently than anyone ever dreamed possible. And I believe that in a few years, building enterprise-class software applications on the Microsoft platform will no longer be difficult.

For more information about Visual Studio .NET, visit
http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio

To get a trial copy of Visual Studio .NET, visit
http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/productinfo/trial.asp

To download the Microsoft .NET Framework, which you'll need to begin using Visual Studio .NET, visit
http://msdn.microsoft.com/netframework/downloads