Developer

Visual Studio 2015 offers productivity gains and cross-platform development

After looking at the preview of Visual Studio 2015, Tony Patton says his overall first impressions of the release are favorable. Here are its standout features.

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Image: Microsoft

As I have gotten older, new software versions are less exciting and make me immediately ask why should I upgrade. Visual Studio is a great example, as its current version (2013) is powerful, and I just got comfortable with all of its features.

Microsoft has released a preview of Visual Studio 2015, with many enhancements that make it attractive to developers. Here's a tour of the most important features in the newest version of Visual Studio.

Cross-platform development

Visual Studio 2015 takes the baton from last year's announcement by Microsoft to firmly embrace cross-platform development. While Visual Studio 2015 will only run on the Windows platform, it can be used to build applications that target other platforms. The preview version of Visual Studio 2015 is available as a free download.

The window shown in Figure A is presented during installation. It allows you to choose key features such as LightSwitch, Office, SQL Server tools, and so forth.

Figure A

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

Visual Studio 2015 installation offers many options.

The key difference with previous Visual Studio versions is the cross-platform mobile development tools option. This adds a wrinkle to installation with the secondary installer window shown in Figure B. Apache Cordova is a key feature to the cross platform promise of Visual Studio 2015, as it enables Android development. The other way to develop cross platform is via Xamarin, but it is available as a separate tool.

Figure B

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

Visual Studio 2015 cross-platform tools installation.

With the cross-platform tools installed, there are various projects types available when creating new solutions Figure C shows the many options in the New Project window. The iOS option is highlighted, along with the Android option under Visual C# as well as numerous Apache Cordova Apps options under JavaScript and TypeScript selections. Visual Studio 2015 developers can now build applications for the most popular platforms within comfortable surroundings.

Figure C

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

There are numerous options when creating new projects.

Figure D shows a new JavaScript Apache Cordova Apps project created. There were some problems with building and running the application due to issues with the paths to the Android and Java SDKs — these paths can be overridden in the project options, but I expect the errors to be corrected with the final release of Visual Studio 2015.

Figure D

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

New JavaScript application created with Apache Cordova apps option.

Development environment

With any new Visual Studio release, there are always key changes to the IDE. Visual Studio 2015 is no different, with some minor tweaks to the familiar interface.

One of the first things you will notice is code assistance via a new light bulb icon. The light bulb will appear in the left margin (where breakpoints appear) — it tells you assistance is available, and you can click on it or hover over the code to see suggestions and syntax as shown in Figure E.

Figure E

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

Code assistance now provided via a light bulb icon.

The light bulb is the new home of all quick actions that you may take in Visual Studio. In addition to code suggestions, other features are available via the light bulb. For the first time, code refactoring is available for Visual Basic developers. Live code analysis is also available, although I have not taken it for a test drive. One add-on that piqued my interest is an Azure analysis tool for finding features that may have problems with living on the cloud.

More features worth noting include enhanced error messages within the error list pane with advanced filtering options; extensive information on fixing the error as well as details on who worked on the code if using team features. More information is provided as well as including information on targeted frameworks.

While I am not a big user of lambas, you can now debug them, which has thrilled many developers. One change that does thrill me is the enhanced NuGet Package Manager window as shown in Figure F. The previous iteration in Visual Studio 2013 was rudimentary and left a lot to be desired. As you see in Figure F, there are many more options. Other features of note are CodeLens enhancements where it shows change history as a chart as well as more intuitive code maps.

Figure F

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

The improved NuGet Package Manager in Visual Studio 2015.

With a lot of focus on cross-platform development, there are related enhancements in the IDE. For example, Windows touch gestures are now supported, so you can gauge user experience for your Windows projects. One of my favorite new features is window layouts — this lets you save window layouts and use them when needed. This is great since I have a two-monitor workstation setup at the office, but I stick with my laptop at home. This caused problems with previous Visual Studio versions, as I had to manually adjust the layout when changing work environments, but Visual Studio 2015 allows me to configure and save window layouts, thus making switching as easy as point-and-click. Figure G shows the location of the feature via a simple menu.

Figure G

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Screenshot by Tony Patton

Visual Studio 2015 allows you to save and reuse window layouts.

A key piece of the latest edition of the .NET Framework that will be used in Visual Studio 2015 is Roslyn. It is the latest iteration of the .NET compiler platform and has been officially open sourced. While I have not done a deep dive with Roslyn, the build/compile tasks within the IDE seem faster, though more testing is needed.

On the performance note, Visual Studio 2015 offers a better user experience, as it opens and loads much faster, letting you get to work without the necessary trip to get coffee while waiting for Visual Studio 2013 to load.

Good first impressions

While this is only a preview version of Visual Studio 2015, I like the new features added and the overall direction of the product. The ability to build applications targeting all popular platforms is a must in the ever-moving and changing development world.

It will be interesting to see how fast Visual Studio can react to sudden changes or shifts in the development space. For instance, will new features or technologies be added or incorporated in small releases or updates, or will we have to wait for a completely new version? Also, what about Microsoft's Visual Studio Online offering — how will it handle cross-platform development and other new features?

The final release of Visual Studio 2015 and ancillary products will be interesting and greatly anticipated.

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About Tony Patton

Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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