At the VSLive! event in San Francisco, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates officially launched Visual Studio .NET, Microsoft's long-awaited software-development suite of tools, and the emerging development platform's foundation—the Microsoft .NET Framework. People are calling Gates's keynote address one of the best in the company's history because of its excitement and entertainment value. If you missed the conference, you can still watch the streaming Webcast of the keynote address.

Gates called the new Visual Studio .NET tool set the "most comprehensive development tool of all time." Developers have waited 3 years for this release of Visual Studio (VS), and the product appears to be worth the wait. Visual Studio .NET enables "the next big wave of developer opportunity," said Gates, "creating XML Web services that will soon become the basis for all major new software development." Those statements are bold predictions; the company has stated in no uncertain terms that XML Web services are the future of the Internet Microsoft is "betting the company" on. Microsoft estimates that more than 300,000 developers were trained on Visual Studio .NET during the product's beta program.

Visual Studio .NET contains features that let developers use more than 20 programming languages to write applications that can run on devices ranging from cell phones to servers and interact with applications written for almost any computing platform.

Of course, Visual Studio .NET is built around the .NET Framework, whose Common Language Runtime (CLR) environment includes numerous elements of already-developed code considered basic to VS applications. Within the .NET Framework's CLR, developers will be able to write code on the Microsoft platform that's faster, more scalable, and more powerful than ever before—and they'll do so more quickly because a lot of the plumbing is already built in.

Later this year, Microsoft will release a version of the .NET Framework to help developers write Web applications and services for small devices such as handheld computers and PDAs. The product, which Microsoft calls the .NET Compact Framework, will ship as an add-on to Visual Studio .NET. The Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit (MMIT), which comes with Visual Studio .NET, lets developers build Web-based Windows applications targeting small devices. MMIT automatically handles the small rendering nuances that make programming many different mobile devices so difficult.

Microsoft has devoted a significant portion of its R&D budget to developing products based on the .NET Framework, Gates said. Microsoft plans to spend about $5 billion each year on R&D to outfit its products with support for industry standards such as XML; Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP); and Universal Description, Discovery and Integration (UDDI).

During the next few weeks, free Visual Studio .NET launch events are taking place around the world. To find the US location nearest you, visit Microsoft's launch Web site. To find worldwide launch locations, go to the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) Web site.