Product Reviews

VS Toolbox: Free Tools You Need

Not every valuable tool has to cost you money. Here are three free tools that you should add to your copy of Visual Studio.

Our goal in reviews is to make sure that you don't spend money on something you don't want. We focus on tools you have to pay for. For a change, I decided to take a moment to look at three free tools that can help you be more productive.

Some tools are cut-down versions of commercial products, yet still manage to offer serious value. dynaTrace's Ajax Edition is a free version of their multi-tier enterprise tool, limited to tracing JavaScript execution in Internet Explorer. If you're trying to figure out why your client-side code has sluggish execution, this is a critical tool. My only complaint is that dynaTrace Ajax Edition is a standalone tool that doesn't integrate with Visual Studio. For more on the tool, check out the ToolTracker blog entry on Installing with dynaTrace's Free Ajax Edition.

Other free tools lack a commercial counterpart. Case in point is Smart Paster, which adds a "Paste As" menu choice to your editor's popup menu. I often paste strings into my applications and then have to format them into the inputs to a String constant or a StringBuilder object. Smart Paster takes care of both activities for me.

I do have a couple complaints with the tool. First, the options I want are on a submenu -- I use them often enough that I want the choices right on the main popup menu. Second, Smart Paster's installation isn't as clean as I would like. Check out the ToolTracker blog entry entitled Making Life Easier with Smart Paster for direction on how to successfully install the package.

Still other tools take care of jobs you don't like. Documentation is a pain, yet it makes managers (and clients) happy. Ghost Doc looks at your class members and generates default documentation with a key press. Ghost Doc cleverly decodes member names to generate something like English (e.g. "AssignTagToSite" becomes "Assigns Tag to Site"). You can modify the rules to improve the results. After a while, you'll likely start giving your methods names that work well with Ghost Doc. Ghost Doc had the slickest installation package: A real MSI that comes complete with installation options.

You can find some more commentary on documentation at the ToolTracker blog, under Generating Default Documentation with Ghost Doc.

You need these tools. And it's not like they'll cost you anything


About the Author

Peter Vogel is a system architect and principal in PH&V Information Services. PH&V provides full-stack consulting from UX design through object modeling to database design. Peter tweets about his VSM columns with the hashtag #vogelarticles. His blog posts on user experience design can be found at

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