Why Visual Studio Express Won't Allow Extensions

One Microsoft employee calls it a "business decision" -- and a bad one at that.

There appears to be confusion among some developers around extensions in Visual Studio Express, Microsoft's free version of its flagship development tool.

The question was posed this way by a developer on an MSDN forum:

"...when I tried to install an extension that I have developed, it would show up in the Extension Manager but the extension menu would not appear under the Tools menu, as it is supposed to (it works on other editions of Visual Studio).

The extension doesn't do anything that shouldn't work on an Express edition. So is it that only extensions developed my Microsoft (or possibly approved by Microsoft) can be installed on Express editions? Or is it that my code is somehow incompatible with the Express editions? (in this case, where could I find documentation about making the coding compatible ?)"

Variations of this question have been asked elsewhere, too. The simple answer is that third-party extensions will not work with any version of Visual Studio Express. Microsoft-created extensions like NuGet, Node.js Tools and Python Tools will work, but not user-created packages.

Some additional confusion is caused by the fact that extensions can be installed, even if they're third-party created, but can't run. Microsoft's Ryan Molden, in a response to a user, said that disallowing non-Microsoft extensions is deliberate:

"We don't prevent you from INSTALLING a package to Express (since that just means 'writing some bits into the registry'), but it will never successfully load. As I mentioned in the other post, this is not a technological limitation it is a business decision (one I disagree with, but I don't make these decisions)."

Long-time Visual Express users may remember that it wasn't even until Visual Studio 2012 Express that any extensions, including Microsoft-built ones, were allowed.

The first Express version of Visual Studio was Visual Studio 2005. Visual Studio Express 2012 has the widest range of products available, including editions for Windows Phone, Team Foundation Server, and support for Windows 8.

About the Author

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

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