Tuesday, 30 October 2012

In praise of Visual Studio 2012 Express

Visual Studio 2012 gets a lot of flak for its questionable color scheme, the shouty all caps menus and Microsoft's initial decision to snub desktop-centric developers like me with their initial set of Express editions.

But this one single button makes it all worth it.

I don't think I can ever go back to 2008/2010. That one single button makes sifting through a 48-project solution (which Maestro currently is) an absolute breeze! Navigating through 48 projects worth of source code in previous versions of Visual Studio was a complete chore. In VS 2012 it's dead simple.

As an aside, the Windows Desktop Express edition of VS 2012 is quite an impressive piece of free (as in beer) software. I've been hacking on Maestro trunk with VS 2012 Express ever since it was released and I've had some of the most productive coding sessions with it.

I was expecting a bare-bones front-end to csc/vbc/cl.exe like previous Express editions with all sorts of SKU-related hurdles to overcome, but this is something out of the ordinary:
  • Support for heterogeneous solutions with assorted project types
  • .net Framework targeting
  • Support for solution folders
  • Integrated NuGet package manager
  • Attach to process debugging
  • Basic static code analysis
  • Project/Solution roundtripping with VS2010*
  • 64-bit C++ compilers included
This was stuff I was expecting from a Professional level SKU in previous versions of Visual Studio! I don't really care about MSTest (I use NUnit/xUnit externally), nor do I care about TFS integration (I'm use svn/git/mercurial externally). Actually I don't really care much about whatever integration Microsoft is marketing for their higher level SKUs as I am happy to get at such functionality through external tools. Refactoring support is very basic, but still workable (ReSharper is nice, but I don't need it like a crutch in order to crank out good code). 

So what Microsoft has actually offered in their 2012 Express editions actually meets most of my needs, which is especially surprising in light of their initial snub to desktop application developers (you know ... the people who make their platform). In their efforts to appease the many pissed off developers (like me) they punched well above their weight and did much more than I would've personally expected them to do.

So kudos to Microsoft for delivering a fine set of free developer tools. 

But if you think this is an olive branch manoeuvre that will get me to code for Windows 8? Dream on! :P

* Found out a little hitch in the round-tripping  The round-tripping breaks if you add a new project from VS 2012, as this upgrades the solution file to VS 2012 format. But the actual changes are minute and can be safely reverted (just need to revert the header portion of the solution file) to allow that solution file to be opened back in VS 2010.

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