Microsoft recently announced the latest version of the Visual Studio Extensions for Windows SharePoint Services (v1.2). This announcement is significant in that, among specific improvements in and to "out-of-the-box" projects, Redmond has added support for Visual Studio 2008. For those of you actively developing on SharePoint, this update to the extensions means, among other things:
- No more "hacking" to use VS 2008
Until the 1.2 extensions, developers were reduced to "community" solutions for leveraging VS 2008. Some of these community-developed solutions worked, but they were not supported by Microsoft and lacked the fit and polish of a commercial release.
- The ability to fully utilize .NET 3.5 (which provides native AJAX extensions)
The latest version of the .NET framework has been out for some time. However, SharePoint developers couldn't really take advantage of the update, since VS 2005 only supports .NET 3.0 (we can split hairs about how much SharePoint support there is with this extensions release, but that's another blog topic). With the update, the facilities in the new framework are now effectively available to SharePoint developers, including having the AJAX framework built into .NET (although official support for AJAX within SharePoint doesn't really exist).
- Silverlight support (at least from Visual Studio's perspective)
As mentioned in a previous post on the SharePoint conference, Microsoft has been demoing more and more Silverlight-based Web Parts in SharePoint. Both Andrew Connell and Robert Bogue have been hosting a series of SharePoint online sessions that, in part, cover Silverlight-enabled Web Parts. For highly interactive Web Parts, Silverlight may be a better option than AJAX, since SharePoint doesn't natively support AJAX.
- Improved project diversity
There are additional project types added to SharePoint development, including custom fields, modules, and templates. In addition, two project types (content types and list definitions) include stubbed Event Receivers.
As the SharePoint Report 2008 points out, the SharePoint developer experience needs some improvement. Specifically, there were historical problems with the 1.0 extensions that Microsoft released. The 1.1 extensions fixed may quirks, but didn't significantly add to the project types available and failed to support the latest Visual Studio version (even though the release dates were relatively close). With the 1.2 release, it seems Microsoft has regained its development footing and has started moving the ball forward again.
All this said, there were some disappointing news within the announcement. Remote development is still not supported. One could argue that remote development has never been a strong suit of Microsoft's server products; most products, including previous versions of SharePoint, Content Management Server, and BizTalk all required developers to have a local copy of the product installed. However, as the SharePoint development community expands and more customers adopt the platform, I question whether it's reasonable to expect every developer to host their own SharePoint server. I know of at least a few customers who don't want developers arbitrarily spinning up servers on their network and don't have the network support bandwidth for a half-dozen new servers just for development.
In all, the new extensions take a step forward, but the developer community is left still wanting more...