In-Depth

Sneak Preview of a Leaner, More Nimble Visual Studio 2017

From Visual Studio Live! in Orlando, Microsoft's Tim Sneath offered an extensive look inside the next-generation development platform.

Attendees at this year's Visual Studio Live!/Live! 360 conference in Orlando, FL received an extensive preview of the features and functions coming in the next generation of Visual Studio. The enthusiastic crowd filled the room to hear Tim Sneath deliver his Visual Studio Live! keynote presentation, "Faster, Leaner, More Productive--The Next Generation of Visual Studio."

"The goal is to try to give you a sense of what's coming in Visual Studio 2017," said Sneath, who is a principal lead program manager for the Visual Studio Platform. "It's coming soon-ish. We're putting finishing touches on it."

Sneath started his session by outlining the priorities Microsoft considered when creating Visual Studio 2017. "When we started working on Visual Studio 2017, there were three things we heard loud and clear. What people told us more productive so work on the fundamentals, make it faster, and easier to install. So we've gone back to the fundamentals to make it richer and stronger for daily use."

Before launching into the demo-heavy preview session, Sneath explained a bit about the Visual Studio family of platforms. "With Visual Studio, we're expanding the family a bit," he said. "We have Visual Studio as the core product. Now we're adding Visual Studio code and Visual Studio Mac. It doesn't matter what language you're using, what kind of developer you are, what platform you're using, and what platform you're targeting, we want Visual Studio to be the best development tool."

Visual Studio Code is positioned as the lightweight text editor. "It's optimized for inner loop coding. We built this out for that scenario," he said. "Visual Studio Mac is designed around mobile web developers and .NET developers. This is free if you already have Visual Studio subscription. So it truly doesn't matter which platform you're using or targeting."

Reducing system impact has been another goal for Visual Studio 2017. To that end, Microsoft has significantly streamlined the installer. "There's a new installation experience, we've made it cleaner," said Sneath. "What we're doing is enable you to target what you're building to the working style you have. We're going for smallest Visual Studio environment available. We've taken the core of product and looked at fundamentals of what makes Visual Studio. We've made that core shell available as a component. Everything else is an extension."

The most streamlined install of Visual Studio has gone from about 6GB to a tenth of the size. After installing the core Visual Studio engine, developers can install workloads on top of that to suit their preferences. "There are a number of different workloads that represent platform you're targeting," he said. "There are 18 different workloads for the core things you might be building. You can pick the workloads of your choice and install them."

After showing the new installer and installation process for adding workloads, Sneath handed the demo over to Justin Clareburt, who works with the Visual Studio extensions team. Clareburt demonstrated some of the new features developers will find working with Visual Studio 2017. "Sometimes we have to work with projects and languages. What about a solution with 10 or 20 projects?" he said. "We've introduced lightweight solution load that gets you in as quickly as possible. It's just now being upgraded. With 25 projects, [loading the solution] takes about a minute."

During that time, there is still access to Visual Studio features. "You can immediately access Intellisense and refactoring and haven't yet loaded a single project," said Clareburt. "Just expand a project, and it automatically loads in background. The lightweight solution load will refactor unloaded projects. You can also edit files. It will load it when you need it."

Clareburt then moved on to demo some other features. "'Navigate To' hasn't been as nice as we like. 'Go To' is new name of 'Navigate To,'" he said. "And instead of huge list, we've introduced filtering in Go To. If I open Go To, whatever I type in, I can get a list of files, types, classes, or symbols."

He continued showing some larger and smaller scale features coming in Visual Studio 2017. "Now you can customize results and filter groups by columns, and choose which columns to see," he said. "You can put a definition in there, and add grouping. If you're looking for more information, it will flatten it out a bit more. There's also a better experience with find references." 

The Productivity Power Tools has always been popular extension for Visual Studio developers. That has now been incorporated directly into Visual Studio 2017. "We've put [the structure visualizer] in the product now," he said. "It shows you every block that's affected (by a command). Previously, you could only collapse to method. You can now collapse to an 'if' statement." This and several other of Clareburt's received applause from the audience. 

After showing off a handful of other features, Clareburt handed the demo back to Sneath. "We'll continue to add and extend Visual Studio," said Sneath. "We've added more web technologies and brought in Xamarin. We're trying to expand how far Visual Studio can go."

The primary thing Sneath demonstrated after Clareburt was expanded language support. "We want to show you a different language not seen before in Visual Studio--the R programming language. R is popular now with data scientists because you can manipulate large amounts of data rapidly. You can reset the Visual Studio environment to support R with all of the Visual Studio tools."

Clareburt returned to the stage to show one last feature coming in Visual Studio 2017. "We've saved this for last because this is most exciting thing we've got today," he said. "Under the test menu, there's a new item for live menu testing." Developers can now run unit test on live code and immediately see the results of code tested and passed. "Live unit testing really makes you more productive."

Then Sneath finished up the session. "We'll continue to make small surgical updates to Visual Studio. We want to make it faster, more productive, and less impactful on your machine." Visual Studio 2017 is now in the late RC stage.

Information on 2017 events can be found on the following links: Visual Studio Live! and Live! 360 2017.

About the Author

Lafe Low has been a technology editor and writer for more than 25 years. Most recently, he was the editor in chief of TechNet magazine. He has also held various editorial positions with Redmond magazine, CIO magazine and InfoWorld. He also launched his own magazine entitled Explore New England, and has published four editions of his guidebook The Best in Tent Camping: New England.

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