Microsoft has released the second beta of its Visual Studio 2008 developer tools and the final pre-release version of its Silverlight rich media software.

VS 2008, which is still scheduled to ship before the end of the year, now includes a Silverlight add-in that allows developers to start building Silverlight applications in Visual Studio, and work with designer colleagues using its new Expression design tool, Microsoft said. With this beta release, VS 2008, is 99 percent complete, according to a Microsoft spokeswoman.

Scott Guthrie, general manager of Microsoft's Developer Division, noted in a blog post that one of the biggest features web developers will discover in this beta is a "dramatically improved HTML designer" and rich Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) support. VS 2008 now uses the same web designer that ships with Expression, he added.

"In addition to providing lots of new functionality, you'll also find that this web designer is much faster than the VS 2005 version (which was based on a much older code base)," he wrote.

VS 2008 adds "split view" editing so that developers can see both the HTML source and design view at the same time and have changes made in one view updated in the other, he added. The version also includes a new tool window that shows all the CSS style sheets and their corresponding rules for the page a developer is editing. It can be used from within the design view or source view of a page.

Microsoft also announced the second beta version of the .NET Framework 3.5, which now includes full project template and tools support for many of the .NET Framework 3.0 compatibilities previously provided.

The software will be available for download today.

Last month, Microsoft unveiled new details about the next version of VS, code-named Rosario and due out sometime after VS 2008. It is aimed at providing developers with better insight into a project's overall status and to help project managers get better insight into where development projects stand.