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<.NET 4.0 will include Parallel Extensions ⁄ >

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Parallelism in programming has largely been conducted in the laboratories. But with the next version of the .NET Framework, developers everywhere will be able to experiment with what could become a monumental change in languages.

In perhaps the most significant development in the brief history of the field of implicit parallelism in computing, one of Microsoft's development teams announced last Friday that the next .NET Framework 4.0 -- the first glimpses of which we'll see later this month from PDC in Los Angeles -- will include the so-called Parallel Extensions as a standard feature. This after the Extensions were first introduced in a Community Technology Preview last November.

The significance of these extensions is that they enable existing .NET languages (today, most predominantly, C#) to incorporate implicit parallelism directly in programs. In other words, rather than simply write ordinary procedural code and use compiler switches to determine whether code can be forked into parallel threads, a developer can use entirely new syntax to invoke methods that execute multiple threads concurrently.

In conjunction with the new Language Integrated Query (LINQ) that Microsoft already introduced formally earlier this year, the possibilities for parallel applications that run on multicore servers or data clusters is astounding. To explain: In the old procedural model of algorithmic programming, any function that affects a set of data in a table based on conditions, has to include instructions that explicitly examine each record in that table, test it for the current criteria, and invoke changes to all records that pass. With LINQ, a more SQL-like structure is utilized instead, where a single instruction can point automatically to all records that match criteria, and the change is stated once and once only.

Now, pair that with the Parallel Extensions: Using an up-and-coming syntax gleaned from calculus called lambda expressions, a C# developer can write an instruction where the criteria are expressed inline, similar to an anonymous delegate. It becomes a way of saying in a single expression, "For all x where x meets these criteria, make a change according to the following..."

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