Initial impressions of Visual Studio 2008

Tony Patton shares his first impressions of Visual Studio 2008 and reveals his favorite feature of the new IDE.

Visual Studio 2008 was recently released to MSDN subscribers, and it's slated to be available to the general public soon. These recent developments spurred me to take a closer look at the latest version of Microsoft's flagship IDE.

In this overview of Visual Studio 2008, I'll start out by outlining the various versions, and then I'll focus on new features and how the IDE may help you be more productive. Find out my initial impressions of Visual Studio 2008.

Versions of Visual Studio 2008

There are Express Editions that offer a pared down version of the IDE with a focus on specific languages like C#, Visual Basic, and C++, as well as the Visual Web Developer Express Edition.

The next step up is the Standard Edition, which offers a full-featured IDE that allows you to use the language of your choice.

The spectrum ends with the collaborative tools that feature the Team System, which allows multiple developers to work together on .NET projects.

Visit MSDN for more information on the various versions.

New features

The major change with Visual Studio 2008 is the use of .NET Framework 3.5 and its many new features such as enhanced support for Web developers and new technologies such as Language Integrated Query (LINQ). The IDE adds support for: targeting multiple .NET versions, increased AJAX support, LINQ integration, and built-in unit testing.

My favorite Visual Studio 2008 feature by far is the ability to develop applications that target other versions of the .NET Framework. This means you can use the new IDE without upgrading existing projects to the latest version of the .NET Framework. You can maintain these applications while building new applications that take advantage of the new features. This is a major shift from previous Visual Studio versions, which are bound to specific .NET versions (e.g., .NET 1.x with Visual Studio 2003 and .NET 2.x with Visual Studio 2005).

The feature is easy to use, as the .NET version is selected via a drop-down menu when creating a new project within the IDE. The list of available templates changes automatically to reflect the .NET version selected. Another benefit is that I can use one version of Visual Studio as opposed to switching to a different version to reflect the version of .NET I am using.

Even if you aren't using the latest version of the .NET Framework, you can use the new features of the Visual Studio 2008 IDE regardless of the target .NET version.

Increase developer productivity

Visual Studio 2008 adds many features that can help you make better use of your time while coding. A good example is JavaScript Intellisense support, which allows you to get JavaScript syntax help on-the-fly as you code -- this means no more time looking in books or conducting Google searches for help. There's also enhanced JavaScript debugging support, which makes it easier to debug your client-side code.

CSS design support has been improved with a better editor, and a WYSIWIG designer that provides instant feedback of your work. In addition, AJAX is now a standard part of the .NET Framework with improvements including three new controls.

Note: Most of the feedback I've read is positive about the improved performance of the ASP.NET page designer in Visual Studio 2008, but I haven't worked with the IDE enough to gauge the merits of this claim.

Unit testing

Unit testing and Visual Studio have not always been a good marriage, but Microsoft seems to get better with each Visual Studio release. With Visual Studio 2008, unit testing features have been added to the Professional Edition. A new context-sensitive menu option (Run Tests) makes it easier to use the feature once it is set up; this allows you to run a single test with one mouse click. Also, you can right-click on Class and run all tests in the class.

Working with data

One of the more publicized additions to .NET Framework 3.5 and subsequently Visual Studio 2008 is LINQ. LINQ is a new declarative paradigm for querying data sources in a consistent manner regardless of the data source albeit in memory, SQL backend, XML, and so forth. LINQ is fully extensible, so the possibilities are endless.

Do you plan to use Visual Studio 2008 soon?

In the coming year, I will continue to explore the many features of Visual Studio 2008 with projects both old and new. I'll also highlight additional improvements for mobile development and testing and Microsoft Office development.

Are you planning on using this new version of Visual Studio within the next few months? If you're already using Visual Studio 2008, share your thoughts about usage and its new features with the .NET community.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.


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