Of late I’ve started to wonder about the direction that Microsoft may take their various development tools in the future. There has been an obvious move toward embracing the open source development community, witness the presence of open source advocate Matt Mullenweg on stage at the recent PDC09 keynote as proof of that. Also observe the obvious move to embracing the cloud as evidenced through the introduction of Azure and SQL Azure.
With all this going on though one thing struck me, Microsoft still have a need to keep the lights on and to that end one big way that they make money is by selling licenses for their development tools such as Visual Studio and SQL Server Management Studio and moreover one requires a license for Windows in order to run those tools. So no matter how much they say SQL Azure is open to none-Microsoft development shops (which indeed it is) you’re still pretty much reliant on some Microsoft software running on your laptop in order to make best use of it.
I started to wonder when this situation would change; more specifically I started to wonder when the development tools that we use would also become cloud-based. After all, if we’re using cloud-based services does it not make sense to have cloud-based tools that work with them? I think it does. I noted with interest then that the next version of Visual Studio (aka Visual Studio 2010) is built using Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). WPF is very closely related to Silverlight and hence I wonder if and when Microsoft will supply a version of their development tools that run purely in Silverlight thus opening up their development experience to a lot more of the open-source community that invariably choose not to develop on Windows.
I’ve had these thoughts rolling around my head for a while but I haven’t wasted too many brain cells on discussing them or writing them down until today when I caught a glimpse of something that sparked my interest and then prompted this blog post. I was watching a session video from PDC entitled The Future of database development with SQL Azure by SQL Azure Program Manager David Robinson when he made mention of a pre-alpha project that they are working on called Project Houston. In a nutshell Project Houston is an attempt to build a Silverlight based development tool for SQL Azure. Here is a screenshot (apologies for the quality, this is a screenshot taken from a video):
Compared to SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) there isn’t too much going on here although we can see the beginnings of an Object Explorer plus later on in the video David demonstrates a T-SQL query window that behaves pretty much like the query window in SSMS today. Davis did stress that the tool isn’t even at the alpha stage as yet let alone beta but nevertheless we should expect to see a v1 release sometime in 2010. I also found it interesting that they seem to have adopted the “backstage” UI from Microsoft Office 2010 (see the red “File” box in the upper left hand corner as evidence of that).
There’s not much else to say about this right now. I’m writing this blog post because Project Houston was something that caught my attention and I thought others might also find it interesting. It is also the first incarnation of a Microsoft development tool that does not have a reliance on Windows and that in itself could be the start of a seismic shift in the way we develop for the Microsoft ecosystem.
If you want to learn more about Project Houston then fast forward to 34m30s in David’s video, it lasts for about 4m30s.
I’d love to read other people’s first impressions about this. Please feel free to write your thoughts in the comments section below.