Microsoft Announces Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows Desktop

The company is bringing back free tooling for Windows desktop apps after developers expressed frustration over the Visual Studio 2012 Express lineup.

Microsoft has added Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows Desktop to its lineup of free, lightweight development tools in response to developer feedback.

S. "Soma" Somasegar, corporate vice president of the Developer Division, made the announcement in his blog on Friday and indicated that the free desktop tooling for C#, Visual Basic and C++ development is expected sometime this fall.

"Visual Studio Express 2012 for Windows Desktop will provide a simple, end-to-end development experience for developing Windows desktop applications targeted to run on all versions of Windows supported by Visual Studio 2012," said Somasegar.

Visual Studio 2012 targets Windows 8, Windows 7 and Vista. Windows 8, which supports both desktop and Metro-style apps, is expected to become available on assorted hardware before the end of the year. The final versions of Visual Studio 2012 and the upcoming Microsoft .NET Framework 4.5—an in-place upgrade—are expected in the same timeframe as Windows 8.

Traditionally, Express tools have not supported Visual Studio extensions. With the addition of Express for Windows Desktop, Windows developers can, however, take advantage of the latest functionality in the 2012 Express tooling, according to Somasegar. "Developers will also get access to new advances available across the Express family in Visual Studio 2012, such as the latest compilers and programming language tools, integrated unit testing, and the ability for small development teams to collaborate via Team Explorer and TFS Express," he said.

When Microsoft first announced the final Visual Studio 2012 lineup on May 18, the free Express tools no longer targeted the Windows desktop. Visual Studio 2012 Express had evolved into platform-centric development environments for Windows 8 Metro-style apps, Windows Phone, the Web and Windows Azure, according to the company. In short, desktop app developers who wanted the latest tooling would have to purchase the entry-level Visual Studio 2012 Professional ($499 without an MSDN subscription) or higher.

At the time, many developers questioned the move, and its implications for the future of the traditional Windows desktop, including several readers of my blog about the apparent change in Microsoft's strategy.

"Visual Studio 11 Express NOT able to target the traditional desktop!?" exclaimed one developer. "Again Microsoft [is] shooting itself in the foot and hinting they intend to dump the traditional desktop. Leadership really needs to change soon."

Another developer said, "The future of the desktop looks uncertain, i.e. is WinRT going to be extended for desktop apps, or will non-Microsoft desktop apps desist? Rather than pay for Visual Studio 11, I think it would be better to stick with Windows 7 and Visual Studio 2010, roll out Web services and pick these up with a non-Microsoft client/UI where the future is more certain."

Microsoft's announcement is clearly aimed at addressing those concerns. "Desktop development has always been a core part of Windows," said Somasegar. "With Visual Studio 2012, we continue to extend those desktop development capabilities and provide a great development experience for developers building desktop applications."

The company released the Visual Studio 2012 Release Candidates on May 31, including Team Foundation Server and the Express tools -- Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows 8 (Metro-style apps), Visual Studio 2012 Express for the Web and Visual Studio 2012 Team Foundation Server Express. The Windows Azure June 2012 SDK, which supports the Visual Studio 2012 RC, is available starting this week in conjunction with a major upgrade to the Windows Azure cloud platform. Microsoft has also announced Visual Studio 2012 Express for Windows Phone. The free tooling is slated for the next major release of the Windows Phone operating system, which has not officially been announced.

About the Author

Kathleen Richards is the editor of and executive editor of Visual Studio Magazine.

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