Explore alternatives to Visual Studio .NET

Visual Studio .NET is a powerful development tool, yet it's often overkill or too pricey if you're in a smaller shop or working on a smaller project. Thankfully, there are a myriad of alternative tools available. Tony Patton outlines the pros and cons of these alternatives.

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While Microsoft Visual Studio .NET is the standard-bearer for .NET development, its hefty price tag and overwhelming features can often push developers away from it. Thankfully, a variety of alternative IDEs (Integrated Development Environment) are available. Here's a high-level view of these alternatives.

ASP.NET Web Matrix

Microsoft provides the freely available ASP.NET Web Matrix tool for developing ASP.NET-based applications. Microsoft describes it as a community-supported, easy-to-use WYSIWYG application development tool for ASP.NET. It includes database connectivity, Web services, mobile platform support, and support for multiple languages. It is supported on Windows 2000 and XP and Internet Explorer 5.5 or greater with the .NET Framework installed. Finally, it includes a development Web server so IIS is not required.


SharpDevelop is a freely available open source IDE built with the C# language. It provides a great example of what you can achieve with the .NET platform, but it doesn't restrict you to C#. It is similar to Visual Studio .NET in both appearance and features. It allows you to develop all types of applications including ASP.NET, Windows Forms, and console. At this time, it is only supported on the Windows platform.


PrimalCode is a commercially available .NET IDE available from Sapien. The company describes it as an innovative .NET development environment, incorporating complete scripting and .NET development capability in a compact size that works with your existing hardware. PrimalCode includes two other Sapien tools: PrimalScript and PrimalDiff. In addition to .NET support, PrimalCode supports more than 30 languages including Perl, classic ASP, PHP, ColdFusion, VBScript, JSP, and WMI. Also, it includes a source code control system. It is available for the Windows platform with a trial download available. The download version is available for $249 USD.

Antechinus C# Editor

Antechinus C# Editor allows you to develop C# code including both Windows Forms and ASP.NET applications. It resembles Microsoft FrontPage, allowing you to publish an application to the appropriate Web location. It is integrated with the various tools installed with the .NET Framework, and it includes many features to make your life easier like bookmarking, documentation, color-coding, templates, and so forth. It is available for $49.95 USD for the Windows platform.


Eclipse is an open, extensible IDE framework developed by IBM. It was originally developed for the Java language. It is built on a mechanism for discovering, integrating, and running modules called plug-ins. That is, a tool provider writes a tool as a separate plug-in that operates on files in the workspace and surfaces its tool-specific user interface in the IDE. Eclipse is freely available for Windows and Linux.


MonoDevelop is a freely available IDE for the Linux platform. It is connected with the Mono project. It is a simple IDE allowing development of C# code. It includes various Visual Studio .NET features like code completion, extensive help, class management, and an integrated debugger. It is still in the early stages of development so it will continue to add features, including support for building GUI interfaces. You should monitor its site to keep up with associated developments.


Borland has been an active member of the development tool community for many years, and they are an active participant in the continuing evolution of Eclipse as well. Its CodeWright tool is a powerful file editing system. It includes peer-to-peer connectivity for remote communication and file editing. Basically, I think of it as a text editor on steroids. It is available as a standalone tool as well as an add-in for Visual Studio .NET. The downside is that the CodeWright product is being discontinued so future support is still to be determined.

Text editors

While the use of specialized development tools like Visual Studio .NET, SharpDevelop, and Eclipse provide developers with a wealth of power, many developers prefer the flexibility offered by their favorite text editors. A comprehensive list of text editors is beyond the space limitations of this article, but here is a sampling:

Many of these editors provide support for plug-ins to handle .NET-specific editing. You can enhance or extend the Visual Studio .NET IDE with plug-ins as well.

The choice is yours

I've been involved with various projects where each developer uses their preferred tool. On the other hand, I've seen projects where the usage of a certain IDE was mandated. Most often, such a mandate is related to external tools utilized like a source control tool such as ClearCase or Visual SourceSafe. Other times, you may be working alone on a small project or budget restraints may guide your choice. The good news is that there are numerous tools available.

Join the article discussion to share your thoughts on your favorite tool or to let us know about a tool that may have been overlooked.