by January 3, 2005 0 comments



At last a Visual Studio IDE that developers having been crying for all these years. Microsoft has integrated the best from the best IDEs around and added their own special masala of IntelliSense, ClickOnce and multi-platform build capability and what not to give the edge back to the power-developer. A lot of things had been promised to .NET developers even at the launch of .NET v1.0, but these never came. Until now.

We got the DVD edition of Beta 1 Refresh for the review. This package includes .NET Frameworks 2.0, accompanying MSDN documentation and a copy of SQL Server 2005 Express Edition. They have integrated the pre-requisites (Windows component updates, .NET Framework 2.0 and Visual J# redistributables) and main installers. This means we just launch one setup application and it installs whatever it needs, without needing to swap installation disks. However, in this beta release, you have to select the components you plan to install, at least twice, the first time you run it and when setup re-launches after a reboot.

The built-in VB Migration Wizard migrates your VB6 and previous .NET edition projects to 2005. It also generates a well laid out and self-explanatory Web page to report on any errors or issues encountered during migration. Earlier versions of the migratory sometimes ended up mangling the code badly and marking out a lot of TODO. This edition seems to handle quite a few scenarios well, provided your code is well written. Sadly, it seems they haven’t yet come up with similar tools for C# or Java. 

Visual Studio .NET 2005’s ClickOnce deployment system creates a website to let users install your programs off a website. Nothing on this screen or the installer needs even a word of code

Build options include the Intel Itanium 64-bit option and you can compile 32 and 64 bit applications just by changing the build profile. In the Project Configuration screens, there are a few new options: Visual Styles (that is, direct support for XP Themes), Code Signing, ClickOnce Security, ClickOnce Publication and the ability to edit project-level resource strings directly. Visual Studio developers will note that ClickOnce was a long-awaited addition that would allow developers to use the Web as a medium to distribute their products. ClickOnce Security allows you to specify what kind of users can connect, and how the Setup application will behave for them. ClickOnce Publication allows you setup the server and its properties (FrontPage, FTP, etc) to be used for ClickOnce deployment. XP Themes support is new, and earlier you required using a lot of in code calls to let your programs use the shiny buttons and so on rendered by XP’s Themes engine. Resource strings could earlier be
edited only using the Resource Editor and this had to be done separately from setting up the project’s 
properties.
Several new types of controls have been added to the toolbox and the designer has been revamped to make it more useful. For example, when you add the ‘menu control’ to a form, you no longer have to type out each of the common menu systems (file, edit, view, etc). You can simply right-click on it and select ‘Build menu’ and it is automatically modified, saving you a few precious minutes. Also, most common properties (such as Name, control-specific things like Text) have been put together into a neat popup that appears when you click the little arrows you see around the controls on your form designer.

Database development also sees a major upgrade with this Beta. The Database Explorer now allows you to drag-drop a table onto a form to quickly create a pre-coded data view/edit form. Earlier, you had to put all the controls yourself and setup the interaction manually. You can also select to display or hide specific columns and control what type of control (textbox, dropdown, checkbox) will be displayed for it.

The major feature added between Beta 1 and Beta 1 Refresh-the latter of which we are talking about here-is the VSTS (Visual Studio 2005 Team Services). The Team System allows development teams to collaborate and work on projects in a team environment. It also includes features such as laying out the architecture of various aspects of the project (application, infrastructure and deployment), analyzing the code and performing testing on its various aspects. VSTS also bundles UML modeling (Visio).

Perhaps borrowed from somewhere? Developers would love the Code Snippets Manager (Tools menu). This was, of course, earlier present as an add-in in Visual Basic 5.0 and 6.0. Using this, you can add snippets of re-usable code into the IDE itself. You can further categorize this with different names (eg: ‘database connection’). Later, when you want to re-use them, simply access the Code Snippets Manager and click on the snippet to insert it at the current cursor. 

A very special ability is the much touted ClickOnce, which though available since the first launch of .NET, has been refined so much that it has become extremely easy to use. What this does is generate a mini-website that you can host on any ASP.NET 2.0 capable server – ClickOnce will not work properly on Linux/Mono. Give your target user the URL to this website and he will be presented with a neat website with links to download all required pre-requisites for your application (the presence of .NET is detected automatically when the site loads) and help for using this feature. You can also digitally sign the installer to let the user know that it is safe to use. See the screenshot of this-the ‘More information’ box tells you exactly what kind of security settings have been configured for this installer and what it will do on your machine. This dialog is invoked by clicking on the ‘More information’ link at the bottom of the ‘Application installation – Security Warning’ box behind it, which in turn is invoked when you click on the Install link on the Web page.

‘Edit and Continue’ is another great extension and in Studio 2005, it allows the developer to make changes to a running copy of the code and continue execution in VB and C#. Earlier, this could be done only for VB.

One of the key concerns in the minds of most developers usually is ‘will it co-exist peacefully with Studio 2003?’ Yes, it will. Even the same application compiled in both versions will run fine without any glitches.

The Bottom Line: Although there are a couple of problems using the current release of the IDE, we can draw satisfaction from the fact that this is still an early beta and things would improve before the release. So, it would definitely be worth upgrading to Studio 2005 when it releases.

Sujay V. Sarma

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