The IDE refined (according to Microsoft)

Now that beta 1 of Visual Studio 2005 (formerly code-named "Whidbey") has hit the streets, you should be prepared for a fresh deluge of articles on what's coming next year for .NET developers. I've got the beta installed myself, but I haven't yet dug into the new language syntax or changes to the Framework object model. Instead, I've been concentrating on some of the changes that will have the most direct impact on developers: the changes to the IDE itself. While users of any Microsoft IDE of the last decade will see some similarities here, there are plenty of new features that add up to increased productivity. Here are some early notes on what you can expect VS 2005 to bring to your coding process. I'm not calling out all of the IDE improvements by any means; these are just some of the shiny things that have caught my eye so far.

Settings export and import: If you customize the way VS works for you, you can save out all the settings and get them back to a fresh copy easily. This is useful, and gains in importance because some of the default key bindings for various menu commands have changed.

Line revision marks: Marginal color bars show you which lines in your source code you've edited since the last save. Useful as a quick way to get back to the area you've been working in, or just to flag things for a last-minute sanity check before you save the file.

Refactoring: There is now some simple refactoring support for C# and J#. For example, you can do smart renaming or extract a method. VB doesn't get any refactoring in this release. I expect to see third-party add-ins build on Microsoft's implementation to give us a much better language support and a wider range of refactorings post-release.

XML Editor: There's a new XML editor that includes syntax checking, color-coding, and IntelliSense, as well as DTD and XSD support and validation. These are nice improvements, but for serious XML work you'll probably still want the add-in version of XMLSPY if you can afford it.

Debugging improvements: The addition of Edit and Continue alone is going to be enough to push me to using VB rather than C# for much of my work. You'll also find Visualizers (which make it easy to see what's in complex data structures at runtime) and Tracepoints, which give you a sort of macro interface into breakpoints. You can also debug XSLT stylesheets.

Docking guide diamonds: It's just a little thing, but there are now visual cues that show you where a docking window will dock if you let go of the cursor. They're a bit slow to appear on my test box, but worth waiting for.

Of course, on top of these (and other) changes there's also a new color scheme and new stylings for various widgets. You can pretty much expect that from Microsoft applications these days, just like you can expect hubcap or taillight styles to change with each new model year of cars; these changes don't mean a thing.

What's missing? There's still plenty of room for improvement. For instance, even though you have amazing control over the formatting of the source code now (thanks to thousands of options), I can imagine a way to improve this for teams: store the code in some independent format and let each developer choose how it will be displayed on their own workstations. This won't end wars over curly brace placement but should cut down on the bloodshed. But on the plus side, the extensibility model is more thorough than ever before, which means that the already-amazing possibilities for add-ins to modify VS are upped as well. I'm looking forward to seeing what happens with my favorite add-ins when this version releases. Meanwhile, it's definitely a win for anyone who prefers to write code in the IDE.


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