In September, Microsoft took its ALM solution to the cloud with the announcement at the BUILD Conference of Team Foundation Service. The company today has released the first significant feature update since that initial rollout.

Team Foundation Service is basically Team Foundation Server running on the Azure cloud platform, according to Doug Neumann, Microsoft group program manager for Team Foundation Server. The service, he said, “has the next [version 11] release of TFS bits, but this is accessible anywhere and is not limited to the confines of your corporate network.” Team Foundation Service Preview is available, free of cost, by invitation, which can be requested through

Among the highlights of the new release are a simplified navigation model, agile product and project management tools, and a customizable e-mail notification option, Neumann said. “The big investment we made is in a great Web experience. We had been focused on the Visual Studio experience, but with the next release, we made a significant investment in the Web experience in terms of performance and user friendliness.”

The simpler navigation model allows users to “get around” with fewer clicks, while the e-mail option enables users to specify their address (or the addresses of an entire team) and subscribe to different kinds of notifications. Neumann said Microsoft has made this available now because it wanted to make the system as secure as possible to reduce the amount of spam users receive through the system.

The tools for agile product and project management “seem Scrum-ish,” he said, but can be used with multiple agile processes, including homegrown processes. The product-management software gives users the ability to create backlogs and prioritize the items therein, as well as to put estimates or story points on those items to project how many sprints will be required to get those items completed, he explained.

“It’s based on past performance,” said Neumann. Users can drag and drop items from the backlog into a sprint and break the requirements down into a set of tasks, he added.

The project management software includes a task board that Neumann said is “a great experience for the daily standup meetings.” The task board shows the user stories to be executed in the sprint, and provides information for capacity planning and resource allocation, he said.

Further, the project management software includes a process template that users can populate with custom metamodels to create custom work processes, Neumann said, as a rich rules engine can be used to define processes as heavy or light as you need. “When you start a project, you can then choose the process metamodel,” he said.

Porting TFS to the cloud as Team Foundation Service allows Microsoft to roll out new functionality more frequently and “be very reactive to customer requests,” Neumann said. The same functionality will be built into the on-premise TFS, but release cycles will be longer. Neumann said Microsoft hopes to add functionality to the service monthly and fix bugs weekly.

Microsoft has differentiated its ALM solution from others based on the depth of product integration. Neumann said emerging ALM integration frameworks add another layer but do not provide the depth of integration of Microsoft’s ALM stack. Using the example of source code control, he said, “There have always been one or two players deemed cutting edge. It was Subversion up to a year or two ago, and now it’s Git.

“From our perspective, those are great tools, but they don’t sync for cross-disciplined teams, doing development, or testing, or bug detection. The tools don’t allow those collaborations to be as rich.”