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Jamie Thomson

This is the blog of Jamie Thomson, a data mangler in London working for Dunnhumby

Project Houston

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.


Published Sunday, December 6, 2009 8:53 PM by jamiet

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Roger Jennings said:


I see a great deal of similiarity to the Microsoft Access 2007/2010 UI in the current "Project Houston" implementation. Notice the Access Macro icon used to represent C# scripts. Also the icons for tables and T-SQL are the same as MS Acces's table and query icons.



December 6, 2009 4:49 PM

jamiet said:


Good point. And plus the Access guys have already been doing work with SQL Server - Access Services in Office 2010 leverages Reporting Services.


December 7, 2009 5:59 AM

Jonathan Gardner said:

This is a very interesting development.  I very much want to see where the cloud development specifically SQL in the cloud is going to progress.

I did want to say that Microsoft has started giving away their development tools through the BizSpark program, link below.

December 7, 2009 11:32 AM

Cube8Tyler said:

I agree that this looks interesting. Microsoft should definitely become more open source and better adapt to the trend of the digital age. Then maybe someday they will also set the trend.

December 7, 2009 1:35 PM

JasonM80 said:

Nice post! Houston is going to help DB developers easily move to working with SQL Azure. It also removes some of the barriers, like heavy client-side software installs, to getting up and running.

The open source topic was raised more to show how this product will allow open source developers to write code for SQL Azure as opposed to suggesting Microsoft's movement toward open sourcing its own products. (In fact, I don't see much benefit to open sourcing server code that is can't be installed locally anyway - at least not without crippling it sufficiently to remove its entire benefit in the first place.)

As Jamie suggests, this could very well be the beginning of a trend of offering more cloud-based development tools to help make writing cloud code easier.

(I am contracted by M80, working with Microsoft to promote Windows Azure)

December 8, 2009 6:56 PM

SSIS Junkie said:

Earlier today I was considering the various SQL Server platforms that are available today and I wondered

May 6, 2010 3:20 PM

SSIS Junkie said:

A couple of news item caught my eye this weekend that I think are worthy of comment. Microsoft/Oracle

June 23, 2013 5:53 PM

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