Visual Studio plans to ditch version numbers

There’s some nice new additions coming for developers in Visual Studio 2013. Before we get to what’s news, let’s talk a little bit about Microsoft’s vision for the future...

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There’s some nice new additions coming for developers in Visual Studio 2013. Before we get to what’s news, let’s talk a little bit about Microsoft’s vision for the future releases of the product. During the ‘Visual Studio 2013, the tools for building Modern Apps’ session on Wednesday at Build, one of the project managers spoke about the increase focus on shipping fast.

The plan is to not ever have Visual Studio 2015, of 2016, by then we would just simply have the latest version of Visual Studio – ‘That’s the world we want to get to’. The team has shown their ability to ship new releases more frequently with Visual Studio 2010 followed 2 years later with VS2012, and now less than a year later we’re using VS2013.

The development of not only Visual Studio but most of Microsoft’s software is to have teams work on tasks that are at most 3-4 months in length. Smaller, more achievable tasks that in theory will see the product evolve to changing customer demands faster.

This sounds good in theory, but I do worry about the big changes, things that set the direction for the industry and take 12 months or 24 months to build. If we take this theory to its natural conclusion and see Windows adopt this model, that leaves us with simply iterative changes and never a full ground up rebuild that it sometimes needs.

Ok moving on from that discussion, let’s talk about what’s new in Visual Studio 2013. First up Windows Phone SDK is now a checkbox option when installing, but strangely Azure still is not. This means you’ll still see the Cloud option in the new project dialog, but then be waiting for it to download and install before you can use it.

During the keynote Scott Hanselman demonstrated some nice new features that will improve development time. The first is this in-line preview of code snippet. Previously developers could right click and lookup a reference in the code, but now there’s no extra window and jumping back and forward, just a quick in-line preview, a very welcome addition. Another feature Hanselman showed off was the ability to set 2 default browsers. While that sounds strange on the surface, if you’re building web apps and want to ensure cross-browser compatibility, this means you can set IE and Chrome as defaults and when debugging both will open to your page.

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Microsoft have recognized that there’s been a big increase in requirements on developers, they’re now expected to develop an app for multiple platforms and architectures. Take ARM, x86 and x64 for example. The good news here is that when developing Windows apps for these different systems, App Packages have changed.

Developers can now deploy to all 3 processor type at once, uploading a single package. The smarts comes in when the user goes to install the app, the package provides the common UI elements, but downloads just the necessary parts for their platform. Take the different versions of DirectX for example. Those machines with DX9, DX10 and DX11 hardware would download just the required bits.

The auto-update feature in Windows 8.1 will now allow app developers to ensure all users are always using the latest version they have published in the Windows 8.1 Store. This is definitely a good move for Microsoft as App Updates are clearly not something users should have to worry about, new features and new fixes should just show up.

It seems developers have a thirst for the latest version with VS2012 which shipped last September and has already had 4 million downloads, making it the fastest adoption of a new VS release ever.

There are now 4017 extensions in the Visual Studio Gallery and growing daily. Update 3 for Visual Studio 2012 is also now available, so those not ready for 2013 preview, should look into it.

Another change is the introduction of the .NET 4.5.1 update. This is currently what Microsoft are calling a “GoLive preview”, this roughly translates to the old-school definition of a beta, it will have bugs.

Visual Studio Lightswitch is also now a core feature of Visual Studio rather than being its own standalone product. It seems IT Pros will have to learn / pay for the full VS, this moves away from Microsoft’s original vision for Lightswitch.

One other important addition is the introduction of the Hub Template for Windows 8 apps. While developers could create apps like News and Sport apps themselves, it was a decent amount of work. Now Microsoft are providing the template as part of Visual Studio 2013, expect to see plenty of new apps using this format. It provides a large visual page for the app, with further, more detailed info available by panning right.

During the Q&A Long Zheng asked a great question around the Adobe Creative Cloud subscriptions given to developers at Build. He asked if this signals Microsoft’s end of life of the Expression apps. It turns out Microsoft will integrate the best parts like Blend and Sketch Flow into Visual Studio. Looks like the end of the road for the other apps like Expression Web and Expression Encoder.

After all that, you can see Visual Studio 2013 update is actually quite significant, more the sum of it’s parts than an overall must have feature. For MSDN subscribers the upgrade is free, so it’s really not a difficult choice, for those without you’ll need to decide if the changes are meaningful to your work environment.

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