Don't Overlook Whidbey
Visual Studio 2005 (code-named Whidbey) is almost here.
It's hard to get excited about the imminent or even near-imminent release of a product when you've been living with it for more than a year, and it feels like more than a decade. Such is the case with Visual Studio 2005 (code-named Whidbey), the next version of Visual Studio; it will be even more true of Longhorn, the next version of Windows, where even its baby pictures are worthy of their own conference (Professional Developers Conference 2003).
The way Microsoft announces and promotes its development tools and technologies reminds me increasingly of the Jimmy Carter presidency. It suffers, not from a lack of ambition, but from a lack of sustained focus, where each new day brings a new crusade, with the assumption that yesterday's proposals have already been enacted. Visual Studio 2005 remains down the road, but already Longhorn and its attendant technologies (especially Indigo) feel like the main emphasis at developer conferences.
I think this is unfortunate when Visual Studio 2005 has a lot to recommend it. VS 2005 contains a lot of cool features for C# and VB.NET developers, without even touching on the ASP.NET, enterprise, or Yukon-related features. It is the kind of stuff that enables you to do more, do it more quickly, and do it more easily. That's not a bad combination. So, I thought I'd take a moment and sum up or restate some of the developer-level features you have to look forward to in Visual Studio 2005.
Some of the more interesting changes take place in the next version of C#, which incorporates refactoring, generics, anonymous methods, partial types, nullable types, and even edit-and-continue. Edit-and-continue is that vaunted ability in "classic" VB to make changes to your application in debug mode, then test those changes on the fly, without having to recompile the application every time you change a line of code. It was one of the most requested features for C# once announced for VB.NET -- and reinforces the point that all developers, advanced and not-so-advanced, want to strip away the clutter and time-consuming tasks that can make programming a chore so they can concentrate primarily on the programming tasks at hand.
The next version of VB.NET incorporates the aforementioned edit-and-continue feature. It also provides "My" classes, which provide simplified access to many features of the .NET Framework, including hooks into members such as Application, Forms, Resources, and Settings. As a practical result, printing is once again as simple as writing a couple lines of code:
You can also access forms by name, as you could in pre-.NET versions of VB:
Some of these My features are so easy to use, even a magazine editor can do it. Be warned: There is a limit to what can be accomplished with these classes, and there is no way around learning the framework. However, all users -- advanced and not-so-advanced -- will be able to take advantage of this feature to implement their solutions more quickly and with less code.
The new code snippet feature, part of an expanded IntelliSense, is also exciting. This feature gives you easy access to customizable libraries of code that you can add to your own code with a simple click. Visual Studio 2005 will ship with some examples, Microsoft will provide Web sites to gather more, and you can be certain that there will be a mini cottage industry around this feature. At VSM, we're excited about the possibilities this feature presents (and by we, of course, I mean me!). We have an article lined up to show you how to use it, but of course, the vagaries of beta being what they are, we're holding off on it until we feel the feature is more complete. The article should run sometime in the next two or three issues.
The sum of these features means that there is a lot to look forward to in VS 2005. The hard part, as ever, will be covering the material as quickly as you want to learn about it. We look forward to trying.
Patrick Meader is editor in chief of Visual Studio Magazine.