The release of a Visual Studio update or patch is not normally newsworthy to me, but Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 includes some new features that piqued my interest. The changes to the flagship Microsoft IDE includes tweaks and fixes, along with new features for testing and debugging with an emphasis on Microsoft Azure development in the additional Azure SDK update. Here’s a quick tour of the most notable changes in the update.

Lengthy installation

Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 is available from the Microsoft Download Center. The actual installation is not fast, so you’ll have plenty of time to grab a cup of coffee while it does its thing — Figure A will be on your screen for some time. A system reboot is required to complete the installation.

In addition, there are four other notable releases that require separate downloads/installations:

Figure A

Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 installation window.

While there are a number of bug fixes and minor tweaks packaged with Visual Studio 2013 Update 3, I will just focus on some of the items that I find most useful.

  • The CSS Editor supports the drag-and-drop off resources into a file; this allows you to easily drop images, fonts, and CSS items to the source code, thus simplifying development. It’s so powerful that it makes you wonder why it was never there in the first place.
  • The JSON editors have new auto formatting and brace matching, which also simplifies coding.
  • Application Insights is a standard feature of the IDE, so you no longer need to install the extension.
  • CodeLens integrates with Git to provide information on changes including who, what, and when. The Visual Studio Performance and Diagnostic hub includes memory usage for WPF and Win32 applications, along with CPU Usage integrated in the Call Tree.
  • The Visual Studio Graphics Analyzer allows you to debug graphics used in an application.
  • For those working with memory dumps, you can Go to Definition and Find All References, simplifying navigation (if possible within a memory dump).
  • The ASP.NET Facebook template has been moved to the NuGet gallery. Since Facebook is constantly changing, this enables you to keep the template up-to-date.
  • IntelliSense support for RequireJS is included in the JavaScript editor.

Visual Studio for everything

A key Microsoft initiative is bringing everything into Visual Studio from a developer perspective. Visual Studio will be where you do all of your work, negating the need to switch to other applications, thus improving productivity. Another goal is tight integration with Microsoft Azure, making it just as easy to work with cloud resources as it is to work with your own.

I am doing more work with the Azure platform, so the new features added with the latest updates were welcome. The base Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 allows publishing Azure WebJobs with one click of a button — you simply right-click your project and choose Publish As Azure WebJob (Figure B). WebJobs are a welcome feature, as they provide a vehicle for creating schedule jobs that run within the same virtual machine as a website. Regardless of the application, jobs are always needed for maintenance tasks, processing, and so forth. I will cover them more in-depth in a future column.

Figure B

Publishing a WebJob with Visual Studio 2013.

Additional Azure integration includes support for Azure Notification Hubs (the menu option shown in Figure C) and creating ASP.NET applications that utilize an Azure Active Directory (you get one with a subscription).

Azure integration goes up a notch with the installation of Microsoft Azure SDK 2.4.; it provides the ability to manage virtual machines with the Visual Studio IDE, along with setting up remote debugging and provisioning storage. Figure D shows the Service Explorer opened and linked to my Windows Azure account — notice the Virtual Machines and Storage nodes under Azure. Right-clicking an individual virtual machine presents the menu shown in Figure D, where you can connect via remote desktop along with restarting, shutting it down, configuring, and debugging. It is great to have this available within Visual Studio, because it simplifies working with Azure cloud resources.

Figure C

New features added to Visual Studio with Microsoft Azure SDK 2.4.

Figure D

Managing and configuring virtual machines within Visual Studio.

A noteworthy update

I am an avid Visual Studio user, but I am not usually excited about product updates. However, Visual Studio 2013 Update 3 provides features I wanted and others I did not even know I wanted.

The IDE continues to evolve, and the Microsoft Azure integration is wonderful for those of us using it. The need to use other tools is minimizing, as more features are added – good examples are the full-featured editors for HTML, JSON, CSS, and JavaScript and support for common JavaScript libraries as well as Node.js.

Now I am looking forward to future Visual Studio releases and updates.