by jcannon on December 19, 2007 08:49am

I spend a significant amount of my time crisscrossing Microsoft, looking for (and advocating) interesting ways that our research and development teams are adopting open approaches in their work. It’s not terribly difficult - and, in fact, increasingly easy to find areas where sharing code, participating in community and collaborating with the commercial open source industry are part of what we do every day. As part of my role as an open source community & platforms lead, growing this list is core to my job. And in blogging more actively on Port 25, I'm excited about discussing and expanding this list out in the open.

That said, once in awhile something different comes along...and in my crisscrossing this weekend, something different popped for me. As a former web developer, I have a special place in my heart for the developer tools we offer to build web experiences. I can recall using FrontPage '97 to develop simple WYSIWYG websites (*WYSIWYG, admittedly, was on a journey then...still is) and patching together Imagemaps with hand-calc'd coordinates; the joy of Photoshop and installing Kai's Power Tools for the visual fun of it, or the pain of Paint Shop Pro and transparent GIFs circa 1996. Dreamweaver was doing some interesting things and Visual Studio was starting to get more and more web-centric. Ahhh, the days of Web 1.0.

Additionally, as a former IS major, I also have a special place in my heart for development on a budget.  Those dispositions keep me acutely aware of what goes on with our Express products - and it caught my eye when I started skimming across the refreshed Express site.

A lot of folks aren't aware that Microsoft offers a free-as-in-beer line of development tools for application, game & web development. We call these 'Express' - and there are four editions: Visual Web Developer 2008, Visual C++ 2008 ExpressVisual Basic 2008 Express and Visual C# 2008 Express. There is even a free version of SQL Server 2005 in Express which provides complimentary database services during development. They've been available for a few years, but they were recently rev'd with enhancements from Visual Studio 2008.
With my job at Microsoft focused on open source so acutely, I figured I would take them for a test drive & see how easy it would be to get started. The real test, though? How easy would it be to start using this app if I was a Ruby, or PHP developer (Truth be told - I am not, nor was I during my development days) – but these are different times and those are popular choices. It’s a quick litmus test I’m thinking of using more often…because I do get asked frequently about Microsoft’s support of programming languages and frameworks beyond .NET.

Setup is straightforward - download, run the wizard & choose additional (free) documentation and development options like SQL Express. Click Next & you're set on your way.  Note: you do need Windows XP or later to run an Express tool.


After VS Express is installed, the welcome center offers multiple ways to get started via community sample code, beginning programming resources, guided videos and relevant articles from a variety of online communities.

So I tried a quick test. In two-clicks, I went to "Help" and "Search" - and typed in 'PHP'. Here are the automatic & dynamically returned search results:

I immediately get source code samples to begin programming (from MSDN); SQL Server samples for data access and more from the Codezone Community and direct links into community forum posts. Right away, these are pretty useful tools to get started with.

Ruby is a very popular language - so let's try this one more time with 'Ruby':

Again, that’s not bad for a quick and dirty search. I get relevant programming articles, opinion pieces, sample code and more. It’s all hyperlinked out into the web, so I can easily jump-off and explore at my own discretion, or as I’m inclined to do…lose myself in a trail of links, only to recall my original point hours later. (Case in point )

The point I walked away with, in all seriousness, is that the spirit of Port25 is spreading at Microsoft & the proof is in the programming. It's exciting to see these offerings baked in from day one & I encourage you to take one of the Express offerings for a spin & post your feedback - what are your impressions?

On Port 25, I'll continue to highlight examples like this, and expand on my role at Microsoft and how we're working on growing the role of open source within Microsoft's DNA. For now, though, I have to dust off my copy of Jakob Nielsen's Designing Web Usability and wax nostalgic with some old friends.


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