Last week, Microsoft publicly revealed plans for the next two releases of both Visual Studio .NET and the Microsoft .NET Framework, which will ship together. Microsoft estimates that it will take until 2004 for the releases to be completed. The company revealed its plans in response to customers' requests for a roadmap to help them plan their future investments in .NET-connected software. Microsoft's plans are interesting and exciting not only because of the platforms and tools the company plans to provide but also because Microsoft was so forthright.

On February 13, Microsoft officially launched Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework. At the Visual Studio .NET launch event, I demonstrated how you can build a fully functional and feature-rich Web application in 1 hour (you can view the launch-event Webcast at http://msdn.microsoft.com/net/vslaunch/default.asp ). Since then, software developers and infrastructure folks have lauded the gains in productivity that Visual Studio .NET provides. If you're a loyal reader of this column, you know that I think that Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework are impressive. Five publications have awarded Visual Studio .NET and the .NET Framework top honors, reaffirming the innovation of these products. Microsoft's next step should be to integrate the .NET Framework and Visual Studio .NET into the rest of the .NET enterprise servers. Microsoft certainly deserves some criticism for its failure to do so thus far, but the company has clearly stated that integration is part of its master plan.

Unlike in the past, Microsoft plans to synchronize future tools' releases with important platform milestones. The next version of Visual Studio (VS), code-named Everett, is an incremental release that Microsoft wants to tightly integrate with the next version of Windows server software, Windows .NET Server (Win.NET Server). To provide users with simplified deployment and highly dependable operations, Win.NET Server will integrate the .NET Framework with the platform infrastructure. Because of Visual Studio’s dependency on the .NET Framework, availability of Everett will be roughly concurrent with Win.NET Server.

Most organizations aren't like mine—they don't immediately adopt a new Microsoft platform as soon as it ships (or, in my company's case, many months before). Organizations prefer to carefully analyze and plan migration concerns, integration points, and licensing costs before making platform moves. In the recent announcement, Microsoft acknowledged that customers welcome incremental releases, which focus on refinement rather than new features. Everett will be an incremental update and will include an updated version of the .NET Framework (version 1.1), which will extend the security and deployment benefits of version 1.0. For example, Windows Web administrators will be able to use code-access-security to lock down the permissions they grant to ASP.NET Web applications and XML Web services, enabling more flexible and granular control and a high degree of protection against malicious users. The .NET Framework 1.1 will also provide a unified programming model for building browser and smart-client applications for mobile devices, servers, and PCs.

Everett will include the new Enterprise Instrumentation Framework (EIF) technology, which will help businesses reduce development and maintenance costs. The EIF will help customers provide effective monitoring and troubleshooting in high-volume production environments, a key challenge you face when you build distributed applications. To unify existing event logging and tracing mechanisms built into Windows, the EIF will provide a consistent, low-profile API and configuration layer. Developers can use this feature to publish audits, errors, warnings, business events, and diagnostic events for support and operations teams to monitor and analyze.

Everett will also improve on XML Web services capabilities by adding support for Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) 1.2. The Visual Studio .NET Add Web Reference dialog box, which helps locate and bind XML Web services from within the development environment, will gain additional capabilities and usability features. A new development kit will also add support for some of the latest advanced XML Web services specifications.

Microsoft also said that Everett will provide enhanced reliability, stability, security, and performance for enterprise organizations. Additionally, Microsoft's Java programming language, Visual J# .NET, will be part of the Visual Studio IDE, joining Visual Basic .NET, Visual C++ .NET, and Visual C# .NET. Everett will also include the ASP.NET Mobile Controls (formerly the Microsoft Mobile Internet Toolkit) and the Microsoft .NET Compact Framework.

Microsoft hasn't released complete details about Everett's pricing but said it will announce that information closer to the ship date. Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) subscribers will be among the first to receive Everett. For current Visual Studio .NET customers who don't subscribe to MSDN or to a volume-licensing program, Microsoft will provide an inexpensive path to Everett: For a limited time after the release, registered Visual Studio .NET users will be able to license Everett for $29, which Microsoft says is the cost of materials, shipping, and handling. For customers who don't want to upgrade to Everett, a service pack that offers only bug fixes for Visual Studio .NET will be available soon after the Everett release.