Visual Studio 2013 was a hot topic at Microsoft’s TechEd conference earlier this year, but we had to wait until this month to
get the final product. A new version of Microsoft’s flagship IDE is a little
irritating, as I just got fully comfortable with Visual Studio 2012.

I finally got a copy of Visual Studio 2013 and took it for a
ride this week. Here’s a quick tour of what Visual Studio 2013 has to offer; I focus
on basic IDE enhancements, web development, productivity gains, and
Windows-specific development.

New and improved interface

One of the first things you’ll notice about Visual Studio
2013 is the revamped start page along with the ability to keep your development
environment settings synchronized across the various devices you may use.

Figure A shows the start page for the initial loading of my copy of Visual
Studio Ultimate 2013. This is accomplished by using your MSDN or Microsoft
account — you basically sign in, and your settings will be used every time you
log on. The chore of keeping your home development machine in sync with your
office laptop is greatly simplified and automated. Also, the logon handles
product registration and so forth.

Figure A

The Visual Studio 2013 start page presented when the IDE is opened
the first time.

One goal in the development of Visual Studio 2013 was
developer productivity with an emphasis on putting more information at developers’
fingertips without leaving the tool. A feature tied to this goal is CodeLens
(Code Information Indicators). Basically, CodeLens allows you to view
information on code changes: who made the changes, recent tests, code
references, etc. within the code — this assumes you’re using Team Foundation
Server (TFS). It gives you a quick summary without any additional work. While
I’m not a TFS user, I’m always interested in identifying how often and where
code is used, so the references features is nice to see on the fly.

Another great time-saving feature is Peek Definition (Figure
B
), which lets you view code definition inline without leaving your current
place in the code. Simplifying code navigation was a goal with this release as was
the ability to change scroll bar behavior within the code window — there is
bar and map mode. I prefer map mode, because it provides a live preview of code
on which you hover.

Figure B

Peek Definition allows you to view source inline.

A quick stroll around
Visual Studio 2013 reveals cosmetic changes like more intuitive icons and
greater use of colors. Figure C
demonstrates some of the icons and colors; I like the darker background, which
is easier on my eyes. There are other themes available for background, toolbars,
and so forth, or you can customize your own.

Figure C

A sleeker and more user-friendly interface in Visual Studio
2013.

Web development

Most of my projects these days involve a web interface, so
I’m very interested in any tweaks with web development via Visual Studio 2013.
One of the biggest changes is the Browser Link feature. The
premise is you have multiple browsers open for testing web applications, and Browser Link keeps these
browsers updated without you having to switch to the browser instance and
manually refresh. This also meets the goal of improving developer productivity.

Another positive change is the ability to use multiple ASP.NET
web page features: Web Forms, MVC, WCF, and so forth — it’s a step closer to
the One ASP.NET goal. This is a big change from recent Visual Studio versions in
which you have to pick one or another and stick with it. Now there is just one
ASP.NET project type (Figure D). You can choose one type or include references
to all (checkboxes) (Figure E), which is displayed after choosing ASP.NET
project type.

Figure D

ASP.NET is the only web project type in Visual Studio 2013.

Figure E

Working with multiple ASP.NET page layouts in Visual Studio
2013.

There is full support of the latest and greatest web standards, with HTML5 and CSS3 completely integrated. There is full IntelliSense support for both even when typing CSS3 directly in HTML5 source. JavaScript is fully supported along with TypeScript.

You can download Web Essentials 2013 to add many common items for web developers like standard libraries and such. It’s a head-scratcher why this wasn’t included with the new product release as opposed to requiring another download; I guess Microsoft assumes not everyone is using the IDE for web development. It’s worth noting that Bootstrap is a standard for ASP.NET applications.

Windows development and more

The Visual Studio 2013 release coincided with unleashing Windows 8.1 on the world, and the first can be used to build solutions for the
latter. While I’m not a Windows Store application developer, it’s nice to know
the features are available when/if I enter that world; this includes IntelliSense
for XAML.  There are a number of
templates available online for building Windows Store applications.

There are new versions of the .NET Framework, along with ASP.NET included with Visual Studio 2013. Both are
currently at version 4.5.1, so you’ll need to spend some time becoming familiar
with what has changed in these new versions.

There are multiple versions of the product, and they offer
various features. Visual Studio Ultimate 2013 has the most features, including
TFS support. Visual Studio Professional 2013 is on the bottom rung of the
ladder. All of the versions have the same core feature set, with others added
depending on your role — like TFS support if working with a team that uses it.
You can get more information on the different editions of Visual Studio 2013 on the Microsoft site.

Bottom line

At first glance, the sleek Visual Studio 2013 is nice on the
eyes, it’s easy to navigate, and you can get up and running in no time. I
applaud Microsoft on the goal to help developers work smarter with less need to
leave the IDE.

The product includes many more features than what I have
room to cover here, including tools for cloud development via Azure,
Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) features, Git
support, and diagnostic tools. I’ve only had a short time to work with the new
release, so while my initial impression is favorable, I’ll have to employ it
for a full project to determine whether the improvements are real or just
window dressing.

Do you plan on upgrading to the latest Visual Studio
version? What are your impressions of the new features, and what was left out
of this release? Share your thoughts with the community.