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Microsoft (MSFT) today took a giant step in its drive to become a supplier of upscale development tools for large companies.

The company announced Enterprise versions of its Visual Studio 97 integrated development tool package, Visual Basic 5.0 toolset, and Visual C++ 5.0 compiler. The Enterprise versions allow teams of programmers to share and reuse code for building ActiveX-based multitier client-server and intranet applications.

With the new versions, Microsoft has put itself directly in competition with the top echelon of business application development tool makers for large corporations, including Oracle, Forte Software, and Powersoft.

Microsoft is attempting to drive widespread adoption of its ActiveX object framework by including everything but the kitchen sink into Visual Studio Enterprise Edition, a strategy that analysts say will make it difficult for traditional tool makers--regardless of whether Microsoft offer superior technology.

"Their goal is to drive marketshare their way. By offering a value package, it makes it hard on people offering one product, such as a single development tool, to survive. With Microsoft's deep pockets and marketing clout, it makes it much more difficult for others to compete," said Evan Quinn, an analyst at International Data Corporation.

The Enterprise versions of the tools will include: Microsoft Transaction Server 1.0, the company's ActiveX-based application server; the Microsoft SQL Server 6.5 relational database server; Visual SourceSafe 5.0 software version control system; and a new set of Microsoft visual database tools.

The Enterprise editions of Visual Studio 97 and Visual Basic 5.0 will also include the company's long-awaited Microsoft Repository, a database for storing code, application descriptions and models, and other development information for use by teams of programmers.

Microsoft Transaction Server allows developers to build single-user ActiveX components and deploy them as part of multiuser, multitiered applications through a series of Wizards. Transaction Server handles component distribution, transactions, and security.

The new visual database tools allow developers to view and edit database objects, such as tables, views, and stored procedures. An SQL debugger for checking SQL stored procedures from within Visual Basic and Visual C++ is also included.

Microsoft has also introduced an application modeling tool, called Visual Modeler, for designing ActiveX components. The tool will not be included in the Visual Basic, Visual C++, or Visual Studio 97 package. But purchasers of the Enterprise editions of any of those tools can download Visual Modeler free of charge from Microsoft's Web site once the tools ship later this spring.

The company plans to release future development products in much the same fashion, said Jon Roskill, Visual Basic product manager at Microsoft.

The new Enterprise features will not appeal to all Visual Basic programmers, said Roskill. "This is really aimed at the top 15 percent of VB developers in big companies. We're giving them the tools to build a sound architecture."

The Enterprise Versions, while intended for developers building large applications, are not intended to replace tools used to design and build multiuser transactional systems used by credit card processing companies and airlines. This first batch of tools is targeted at developers building departmental applications supporting a maximum of several hundred users.

But future releases of back-end technology, such as Microsoft Transaction Server, coupled with future Windows NT clustering features will allow applications to be scaled up, said Roskill.

Scaling up to that level is on the feature list for the next version of Visual Studio 97 and other enterprise tools, said Roskill. "We already have about 50 to 60 features sketched out, but we'll probably only do 15 or 20 of those."

A key feature for future versions of Transaction Server will be additional support for Web-based transactional applications, say Microsoft product managers.

Microsoft has not announced pricing for the new versions, all of which are scheduled to ship by the end of the first quarter. However, IDC's Quinn said, "I would be incredibly surprised to see this package priced any higher than $2,500 per seat," for the Enterprise Edition of Visual Studio, which would make it very attractive to developers considering more expensive tools from Powersoft, Forte, and other makers.

Customers who purchased Visual Basic 4.0, Enterprise Edition, or Visual C++ 4.2 Enterprise Edition after January 27 are entitled to a free upgrade to the corresponding version 5.0 Enterprise Edition.

The company also announced a bevy of supporting players, each announcing new products or a pledge to work with Microsoft's software reuse gear.

  • Pure Atria said both its ClearCase and ClearCase Attache software configuration management package, as well as its Purify error detection software will support Visual Studio 97.

  • Rational Software said its Rational Rose modeling tools will work with the Microsoft Repository, allowing developers to visually model complex application before coding.

  • Platinum Technology today said its software modeling, construction, and management products will work with Visual Studio 97 and the Repository.

  • Software error detection products from NuMega Technologies will allow developers to debug ActiveX controls, along with full C++ and Visual Basic applications.

  • The Powersoft division of Sybase said its S-Designor modeling tool can store and retrieve application information in the Microsoft Repository.

  • Logic Works announced that its Erwin modeling tool supports a bidirectional link with the Microsoft Repository.

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