We had an interesting briefing with Christian Shay of Oracle during the Fall 2007 DevConnections conference in Las Vegas to look at the latest features in the Oracle Developer Tools (ODT) for Visual Studio. Oracle has been developing free toolsets for the .NET framework since 2002, and has provided compatibility with Visual Studio since 2004. They're closing tracking with the 2008 release to make sure they have the same tool support in Orcas when it's released in 2008. So, one of the first questions I had was why is Oracle developing free tools for Visual Studio? The answer becomes pretty obvious as you look at the number of organizations managing multiple database platforms, many of which are a mixture of Windows SQL Server and Oracle. In addition, Oracle recognizes the growing number of companies standardizing on the .NET platform to help increase the productivity on their development staff.

Christian gave us the highlights of the many new features for .NET developers in ODT for Visual Studio. Oracle wants developers to know they're committed to providing a compressive set of features that make Oracle and .NET development easier and faster, and allow the developer to stay within the Visual Studio environment for the entire development lifecycle. The idea is to give developers a tool they are used to for development with a database they may be less familiar with.

The list of features included in ODT for Visual Studio includes:
- Automatic .NET code generation
- Code generation for Microsoft Office and ASP.NET
- ASP.NET web developer support through wizards and, drag and drop functionality
- Debugging of PL/SQL in stored procedures right from Visual Studio
- Source control support through Oracle Database Project, providing a simple way to manage SQL scripts associated with a .NET application
- The Oracle SQL Editor featuring syntax coloring and integration with the Oracle Online Help documentation (a much requested feature)
- Built in support for executing SQL*Plus scripts within Visual Studio
- Integration with Query Designer
- A new designer that makes it easy to grant and revoke privileges on schema objects
- Support for UDTs, including a UDT Custom Class wizard to make access to UDT data from .NET code fast and easy
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Many of these features are driven directly from developer requests. The idea is to make developing between Oracle and Microsoft SQL Server simple for .NET developers. And not to be forgotten, DBAs will want to check out Oracle® SQL Developer - a free database development tool similar to Quest's Toad.

In the latest release of these tools for Oracle 11g, developers receive the Oracle Data Provider for .NET (ODP.NET). ODP.NET takes advantage of Microsoft's ASP.NET 2.0 custom provider extensions to make setting up a connection to Oracle more flexible, faster, and more stable in a .NET environment. The data provider can be used from any .NET language, including C# and Visual Basic .NET. Using ODP.NET, developers can also take advantage of advanced, enterprise-level features, including Real Application Clusters (RAC), XML DB, and advanced security. ODP.NET. In addition, ODP.NET includes many features not available from other .NET drivers, including a native XML data type, the ability to bind array parameters, RAC tuning, the ability to weight connection pools, and statement caching.

Many of these tools were previewed last week at Oracle OpenWorld in the developer track, Oracle Develop. The other thing Christian really wants developers to know about are the Oracle by Example (OBE) series which provides hands-on, step-by-step instructions on how to implement various technology solutions built for practical real-world situations. The examples provide valuable hands-on experience, and the solutions can be used as templates for implementing your own application.

I asked Christian what the growth and the uptake was for these tools and, while not giving any metrics, he acknowledges that .NET development is certainly a growing area and it only takes a few large companies with Oracle who want to standardize on .NET development to make this toolset worthwhile for Oracle to invest in. As Christian says, "You choose a platform and we make is easy for you."

You can download the free Visual Studio tools and ODP.NET, and also to read white papers and the step by step walkthroughs at the Oracle .NET Developer Center.