Color Returns to Visual Studio 11 User Interface

Microsoft hears its developers, and colorizes the monochrome look of Visual Studio 11 beta.

Color is back. Back, that is, in Visual Studio 11.

Microsoft has heard the outcry of its developer community on the monochromatic look of the beta version of Visual Studio 11, released last February, and decided to re-introduce colors for the upcoming release candidate (RC). In a blog entry today, Monty Hammontree wrote that "Since the debut of these changes there's been significant community response and feedback." That feedback, said Hammontree, the director of user experience for Microsoft Developer Tools Division, led to the inclusion of color in most aspects of Visual Studio 11's UI.

Hammontree said that the feedback mostly requested more contrast, differentiation, clarity and "energy" in the UI. The original Visual Studio 11 UI was a sea of various grays, and many developers took an instant dislike to it.

The original idea was that the bland, scheme would help certain features stand out more, and focus attention on more critical items like the code itself. It was originally explained this way:

"In VS 11 we have eliminated the use of color within tools except in cases where color is used for notification or status change purposes. Consequently, the UI within VS 11 now competes far less with the developer's content. Additionally, notifications and status changes now draw user attention much more readily than before."

Whatever Microsoft's original intent, the reality for the developer community ended up being much different. In the comments section for the original Microsoft blog post explaining the new look, one commenter said, "This UI is SO bland and SO dead, I'd be afraid of it putting me to sleep on the job as opposed to reducing distractions." Another said, "While I do like introducing simplicity, I won't be installing this if there is no option to replace these very low contrast lay-outs. And I'm pretty sure other people don't want to upgrade to this either, which will cost you some Metro developers in the long term."

On a Visual Studio user forum, one commenter said, "With the new color scheme in VS 11 Beta, I have to spend too much of my time trying to look for things. It is not at all easy to distinguish content in the toolbars or solution explorer." In the same thread -- one with 460 comments, most of them negative -- another chimed in: "This is not a step forwards, it just feels like another attempt to hop on the Apple UI bandwagon of silver and monochrome everywhere, which simply isn't a productive experience in a complex application."

The message got through to Microsoft, loud and clear. The color additions appear across every part the UI, starting with a lighter gray in the "light" theme and window chrome, to enhance contrast. Another big change is colorizing the Status Bar, from gray to a bold blue.

Another major area of concern for developers was the monochrome look of icons and toolbars, which many said made them too hard to distinguish, given their smallish nature. Those items are now more clearly grouped and differentiated by color.

In all, the changes combine elements from Visual Studio 2010 and the Visual Studio 11 beta. It's cleaner and less cluttered than Visual Studio 2010, but adds back that IDE's use of color for easier identification of elements. The changes, Hammontree wrote, will be included in the Visual Studio 11 RC. He didn't give a release date for the RC.


About the Author

Keith Ward is the editor in chief of Virtualization & Cloud Review. Follow him on Twitter @VirtReviewKeith.

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