Microsoft today announced Visual Studio Online, a browser-based development environment for creating applications for the cloud and devices, along with the wide release of Visual Studio 2013.

Visual Studio Online was described by Microsoft senior corporate vice president S. “Soma” Somasegar as a complement to Visual Studio for quick tasks related to building Windows Azure services or websites. And, as a complement to Visual Studio Online, Microsoft is releasing into limited preview the Visual Studio Online Application Insights service, which tells developers how an application is deployed, how it’s being used and how it performs, he said.

(How Visual Studio 2013 was made)

According to Somasegar, “To give you a concrete scenario or example, let’s assume that you’re working on building an Azure website during the day, and you go home in the evening and suddenly the one thing that was bugging you about your website you want to go fix, and you suddenly know in your head, ‘Hey, these are three lines of code that I need to go add to make it work the way I want it to make it work.’ You can fire up a browser, use Visual Studio Online, get access to the source code, which is stored in Visual Studio Online, and then be able to edit your project with those three lines of change that you want to make, and boom, you are there. And you can deploy using Visual Studio Online right from there.”

Further, settings for Visual Studio Online can be customized, and can travel with you between environments. “If you want to customize the settings to suit your particular taste and work style, being able to transfer the settings to another environment is very hard. Because you are now connected to Visual Studio Online, we automatically roam your user settings from one instance of Visual Studio to another, so you can instantaneously get to that familiar environment that you are used to. If you go to a different machine or a different installation of Visual Studio, all you need to do is log in with your Microsoft account, and boom, your settings roam with you.”

The creation of Visual Studio Online is one pillar of Microsoft’s vision of a cloud OS, which Somasegar described as a unified, holistic platform that allows you to get onto the cloud—be it private, hosted or hybrid—at your own pace. The implementation of that idea of a cloud platform brings together Visual Studio Online, .NET, MSDN and Azure.

The other pillars of the cloud OS vision are secure access to data and applications regardless of device, a transformation of the data center to eliminate roadblocks that impede development, and unlocking data to gain insights into the information at hand. “There is a ton of data that is getting generated in the world, particularly in a business context,” said Somasegar. “What we want to do is give you a set of tools that help you unlock the value of the data, that help you get insights into the data, so you can make better business decisions.”

Along with Visual Studio 2013 and the Application Insights service, Microsoft is delivering three other services into public preview this week. The first is Team Foundation Service, which in and of itself is not new but is now a core part of Visual Studio Online. “We wanted to take team collaboration capabilities to the cloud and provide services that deliver on the DevOps workflow,” Somasegar said. Billing for these services will be turned on today, he added.

Another of the services introduced is a build service, based on Microsoft’s existing build tool, that enables users to kick off a build in the cloud whenever they want and at whatever frequency they desire, he said. Lastly, Microsoft has added an elastic load testing service, which can spin up virtual users depending on load requirements for testing.

Much of this capability is made possible through a deep partnership with Xamarin, a company a little more than two years old with its roots in the Mono project at Novell and Ximian, where work to bring .NET to other platforms was begun.

Somasegar said Microsoft has collaborated with Xamarin to make .NET class libraries portable to other platforms, such as Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. He said Microsoft is also working with Xamarin on Azure mobile services for multiple platforms.

Somasegar said the next version of Xamarin’s product is going to be built upon “what we call portable class libraries. The notion is, if you are using C# or .NET and building a library, you can share that library not only just with all the Microsoft device platforms, but you can also share it with non-Microsoft device platforms like iOS and Android.

“The second thing is, we are working closely with Xamarin on better integration for Xamarin both with Visual Studio, so that the tooling experience is consistent and common, and with Windows Azure, particularly the Azure Mobile Services, so that no matter what kind of device you’re running your application on, whether it’s a Microsoft device or non-Microsoft device, you can seamlessly connect them to Azure on the back end through Azure Mobile Services.”

According to a Xamarin statement announcing the partnership, C# developers using Xamarin’s platform are able to share on average 75% of their source code across device platforms, while still delivering fully native apps. Xamarin supports 100% of both Android and iOS APIs—anything that can be done in Java or Objective-C can be done in C# with Xamarin, the statement read.

“We live in a multi-platform world, and by embracing Xamarin, Microsoft is enabling its developer community to thrive as mobile developers,” said Nat Friedman, CEO and cofounder of Xamarin, in the statement. “Our collaboration with Microsoft will accelerate enterprise mobility for millions of developers.”

New in Visual Studio 2013
Developer productivity and enhanced capabilities for application life-cycle management highlight the release, Somasegar said.

Visual Studio 2013 introduces Peek Definition—an extension of the Go To Definition feature—and CodeLens for developers to provide greater detail into the code. “That gives you much deeper insight on the particular piece of code that you are working on right within the IDE in context,” Somasegar said. “Things like, hey, what does a change set look like for this particular piece of code, who changed it last, who ran a build last, who ran some tests on this particular code, and did the test pass or fail. So, a bunch of information that you want on a particular piece of code that you get right then and there in context, inside the IDE.”

For developers targeting Windows 8.1, he added, “We’ve got new tools like memory profiler, energy profiler and the like, and a new diagnostics hub that make it easy for you to build five-star applications for Windows 8.1.”

Visual Studio 2013 also introduces live debugging. Somasegar explained: “If you are targeting Windows Azure…what you can do is, sitting within Visual Studio, you can point at a service that is running on Azure, whether it is running in a preproduction environment or in a production environment, and be able to set break points and walk through if you see a problem. That is something that developers have been craving for a while.”

A new project type called Cloud Business Applications is also new in this release, which Somasegar said let developers take advantage of Windows Azure and Office 365 services to integrate such things as identity graphs and social graphs into business applications.

The third bucket of new functionality coming in Visual Studio 2013 is related to application life-cycle management. Somasegar pointed out support for Git, both in Team Foundation Server and in Visual Studio, “or things like supporting agile portfolio management, where we let you navigate through complex projects using hierarchical workflows, or things like support for Team Rooms, which is a new feature that enables a whole new level of collaboration among the team. Or giving you a rich set of release-management functionality so that you can continuously deploy to Azure from Team Foundation Server.”

Improvements in System Center and Windows Server are designed to enable a set of DevOps scenarios in on-premise environments.

More details can be found in this Microsoft blog.