Microsoft said this week that its Visual Studio 2008 IDE (integrated development environment) is now widely available.

The toolset was released to Microsoft Developer Network subscribers in November. It is now available to volume licensing and retail customers, the company said in a blog posting.

It includes a new version of the .NET framework, version 3.5, which is aimed at taking advantage of two new subsystems Microsoft included in Windows Vista - Windows Communication Foundation (WCF) and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF). WCF is for building service-oriented applications, while WPF is for creating more dynamic user interfaces. Microsoft also built Visual Studio 2008 with the idea of making it easier for developers to create cross-platform applications.

Visual Studio comes in various editions, from a free version called Visual Studio Express to a version for entire developer teams called Visual Studio Team System. More information is on the MSDN site.

Visual Studio is one of the three products that Microsoft will highlight in a launch event in Los Angeles at the end of next month. The other two are Windows Server 2008 and SQL Server 2008. Those other new products won't both be available at that time, however.

The new version of Microsoft's server OS is expected to be available on the day of the launch, but last week Microsoft pushed back the release of SQL Server 2008 until the third calendar quarter of the year. It had said previously that the software would be available by mid-year.