If you’ve been following my blog for a while, then you’ve heard about these things we call “Power Tools”.  You might have even tried them out and found out they could be darned useful :)  We’ll if you’ve been following my blog long enough, you’ll know that at one point they were called Power Toys but we changed the name to Power Tools because we got a bunch of feedback that “Toy” was disturbing to people.  Back in Sept 2006, I wrote a post that described the Power Toy philosophy (the philosophy didn’t change when we changed the name).  And in November, I wrote a slightly higher level post positioning Power Tools in the overall pantheon of release mechanisms that we have.

Power Tools have been one of the most popular things we’ve done.  They’ve been a terrific way to deliver cool value to customers quickly and relatively hassle free.  They fill a need between product and free community content.  They come with a promise that we’ll stand behind them and help you if you have issues and fix bugs that you run into.  Some of them will even ultimately get incorporated into the product eventually.

For the last couple of years we’ve been feeling like there’s another gap in our release spectrum.  That gap is between where Power Tools are now and “real product”.  We’ve been feeling a need to have a way to release new features that essentially are part of the product but to do it without waiting for a full release or a Beta.  We build a fair amount of stuff that is relatively stand alone and ready to deliver but because we want to treat it like “real product”, it has to wait for the next major release (which as you know happen about every 2 years).  It’s not particularly fun for us and I know customers would rather get it sooner than later.

Our new term for this is “Feature Pack”.  So what is a Feature Pack and how does it differ from other things?  If you read one of my previous descriptions of Power Tools you’ll find them defined along the lines of:

  • Carefully chosen features that provide real value
  • No changes to “shipped bits”.
  • Limited testing
  • Supported through forums (only a few are actually supported by our support organization)
  • Lacking many of the “productization” steps – localization, accessibility, serviceability, etc.
  • Updates through uninstall/reinstall
  • No promise to include in future versions
  • Etc.

Feature Packs are similar in some ways and different in others.  As I said, they fill the gap between Power Tools and Product.

Feature Packs are like Power Tools in the following ways:

  • No changes to shipped bits – The only way we can change shipped bits is through servicing – QFEs, GDRs, Service Packs, etc.  Feature Packs are pure add-on functionality.
  • No servicing and updates through uninstall/reinstall – We won’t be shipping hot fixes for Feature Packs.  We’ll deliver them on a reasonably regular cadence and fixing the reported issues in each release.

Feature Packs are more like Product in the following ways:

  • Even more carefully chosen features that provide real value – We’ll go through the same prioritization process for choosing Feature Pack features that we use to choose product features.  Our investment in Feature Packs will be higher than in Power Tools and as such it’s even more important that we pick features with maximum value.
  • Full testing – We will use our standard release testing processes.  We will ensure to the best of our ability that Feature Packs will work seamlessly for you.
  • Full support – Our Customer Support Service will fully support all Feature Packs.
  • Full productization – By default we will do all of the productization work for Feature Packs – Localization, Accessibility, Docs, …  We may, on occasion, decide to exclude some of these but that should be rare.
  • Inclusion in the next major release – While I can’t ever guarantee anything, it is our full intent that every Feature Pack will be included in the next major VS release.

As you can see Feature Packs are a lot like product.  Essentially, think of them as a way to deliver fully complete product features off cycle from the major releases.

One other difference between Feature Packs and Power Tools is that Feature Packs are not “free”.  I wrote a post a couple of years ago about the role of Power Tools with respect to our various subscription options.  Feature Packs are our first experiment in this vein.  Only people who have current MSDN subscriptions will qualify for Feature Packs.  As I’ve said, Feature Packs are like “real product” and as such they cost money like real product.  I know many, many of our customers already have MSDN subscriptions and for you all it is going to feel a lot like “free” :)  For those of you who don’t, you should seriously consider it.  There’s a ton of value in MSDN and Feature Packs are just one more component of that value.

Very soon (like later today :)) I’ll be writing a post about or first Feature Pack.  Keep your eyes peeled – it’s going to be unbelievably cool!

So does this mean that Power Tools are a thing of the past?  Not at all.  Also later today, I’m going to tell you about some awesome new Power Tools available from the VS Pro team (yep, they are joining the Power Tools bandwagon too).  My team (TFS) is also hard at work on our next Power Tools release and I’ll let you know what is coming in that as soon as I can.

Brian