A couple of years
ago Microsoft promised a cloud complement for all of its products. Office 365 is a great example, but the development offerings have been sparse.
This changed with the recent release of Visual Studio Online, which promises to bring many Visual Studio features to a
browser near you. We take a quick pass over Visual Studio Online and tell what it offers today and what it will offer down the road.

Support for all modern browsers

It seems Microsoft has finally recognized that Internet Explorer is no longer a leader in browser market share, so applications must play nice with other
offerings like Chrome and Safari. This is true for web applications developed
with Microsoft tools as well as its own tool — yes, that’s right: Visual Studio Online supports all modern browsers. Visual Studio 2013 allows you to choose a target browser, and it can seamlessly
preview changes to multiple browsers on the same machine. (I have not tested the Visual Studio Online claim with a tool like BrowserStack,
so I will take their word for it.)

The broad support means Visual Studio Online
features may be used on a variety of platforms like an iPad, Windows Surface,
or even an Android device, along with standard laptops and desktops.


The basic Visual Studio Online feature is a collaboration
hub where you can have discussions with other project team members, track
sprint statistics like burn down charts, and so forth. The tool’s Application Insights feature can be
used to keep an eye on an application once it’s in production or live in some
environment. Application
Insights, which is currently in preview and not yet released, provides “live telemetry data” on an application (Microsoft’s words, not mine).

One of the
more publicized features is a lightweight and scaled down browser-based IDE for manipulating HTML,
CSS, JavaScript, etc. within the browser (codenamed Monaco). You cannot edit C# or VB.NET, but it is a
nice feature nonetheless. This feature has not been fully released at the time of this writing (it’s still in preview), but you can get a look at it via Windows Azure by creating a
new Azure
Web Site
via the Azure management interface and choosing the Edit In Visual
Studio Online option. I still have not seen a date for when this feature will
be available in the Visual Studio Online offering.


Visual Studio Online is freely available for small teams (up to five users)
with a nominal fee for adding users. You simply go to the Visual Studio Online home page and register where you can tie an existing Microsoft account (like Hotmail) or
use a new account. Once you have registered, you can hit the ground running.

Figure A shows the basic Visual Studio Online home page once my account was set up (it was loaded in Chrome). It includes links for learning more about features, as well as working with projects and so forth. The Users and Rooms links near top of the page allow you to set up other users — grant them access to projects as well as rooms for discussions and such.

Figure A


A sample Visual Studio Online home page

Figure B shows the page for setting up a new project; it allows you to
utilize Team Foundation Server (TFS) or Git for version control (you
have to choose one or the other). You may notice the warning message in yellow
at the top of Figure B stating the browser is not supported — the screen shot
was taken with Internet Explorer 8.

Figure B

Creating a new Visual Studio Online project

Once the
project is created, Figure C is presented with plenty of collaboration options
for working with the project. The code in your project is used to drive other
features like builds and tests; you need to synchronize your code to utilize
these features. (Note: You may have noticed the Open In Visual Studio option in the lower right portion of Figures A, B, and C; this allows you to launch Visual Studio from the browser, but it requires at least Visual Studio 2013.)

Figure C


Visual Studio Online options and features

Figure D shows the Git-specific options for setting up the code and how to get your Git repository lined up with the Visual Studio Online project. After some trial and error, I was able to get it to work somewhat, but we’ll have to dive deeper into that subject in future articles.

Figure D


Source control options for setting up code within Visual Studio Online.

Bottom line

When I first
heard about Visual Studio Online and the fact that it would live in the
browser, I kept wondering how Microsoft would allow C# coding in a
browser. The truth is Microsoft does not, but it does offer plenty of other features
centered on development teams and agile development (think scrum).

I work on a
lot of smaller projects (aka flying solo), but I do work with larger dispersed
teams occasionally, so this will be an interesting tool to try in those
situations. My first thoughts on Visual Studio Online is
that it is cool, and I like the way Microsoft is thinking outside of the Redmond
box. The next release or subsequent updates should be interesting.

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