For development teams charged with creating and maintaining World Wide Web server applications, Microsoft Corp. is poised to deliver the same quantum jump in productivity that Visual Basic brought to creation of Windows clients.
The company's new Web-based development system, Visual InterDev, is being released this week in beta form. Formerly code-named Blackbird, it combines intelligent database access aids, like those of Bluestone Inc.'s Sapphire/Web, with intuitive front-end authoring tools drawn from Microsoft's FrontPage.
These tools are wrapped in an integrated development environment, like that of Microsoft's Visual C++, that can be incrementally extended with new "design-time" ActiveX controls that aid development tasks without requiring ActiveX support from application clients.
Surprisingly, Visual InterDev defies the common perception of Microsoft as seeking to move the Internet away from its nonproprietary roots. The development tool can produce applications that will work with the plainest of standard HTML browsers.
Visual InterDev's major innovations are aimed at the server side, where it gives developers exceptional ease of producing Active Server logic to generate dynamic HTML pages, with or without proprietary enhancements such as embedded ActiveX controls.
During PC Week Labs tests, the product's Data Form Wizard and its Access-like Query Designer combined to quickly generate HTML forms with sophisticated database access features, including paged record retrieval with persistent cursor state.
Like other current development tools from Microsoft and others, Visual InterDev begins the development process with a project wizard that automates creation of skeleton code. What's new here, compared with tools such as Visual C++, is that the starting point of a Visual InterDev project is in the form of a live Web site that can reside on any accessible Web server, whether local or remote.
The Visual InterDev environment handled access to remote project components transparently, making a project in progress available for collaborative work by distributed teams of developers.
Files are automatically brought down to a developer's workstation in working copy form, with the developer controlling the release of changes back to the shared project.
Visual InterDev facilitates development and maintenance of server-side scripts, embedded with special tags in an HTML page. These scripts are executed by the server but not transmitted to the client, which means that developers can enjoy the convenience of scripting without disclosing their application logic as part of viewable Web page source code.
The design-time ActiveX controls in Visual InterDev offer developers the benefits of incrementally adding capabilities to their tool set without assuming that there is matching technology on the client.
Existing sites can easily be imported into Visual InterDev, and any site can be analyzed with the environment's graphical link view tool. Unlike too many self-contained tools, Visual InterDev provides connections with both pre-existing work and downstream maintenance tasks.
The development system is planned for release in the first quarter of next year. Access to the beta version is available at www.microsoft.com/istudio.