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Hey, Microsoft: Make CodeLens Available in Visual Studio 2013 Professional

CodeLens is perhaps the best new feature of Visual Studio 2013.

Too bad you'll never get to use it.

That is, unless you have Visual Studio Ultimate. Those of you with Visual Studio Professional -- in other words, most of you -- or even Visual Studio Premium aren't eligible for the awesomeness that is CodeLens.

When we ran an article recently on using CodeLens, the author, Mickey Gousset, said that it's "going to be that "Oh, wow!" feature". Why is it so cool? Mickey explains:

"Before CodeLens, you had to dig through several different windows to retrieve information such as method references, tests associated with a method, the last time a line of code was changed or how many times the code has been changed. Researching and finding this information takes you away from the code editor, and away from writing code. CodeLens changes that by putting this information literally at your fingertips within the code editor."

Cool, indeed. But also a tease, because Visual Studio Ultimate is a very, very expensive product. If you're a fan of MSDN Subscriptions, rather than buying your software piecemeal, it's a the top of the ladder, out of reach of a large percentage of developers. The Visual Studio Ultimate MSDN subscription is $13,299. And the yearly renewal price is $4,249.

Ouch. How many of you have that much scratch lying around? Show of hands? Yeah, I thought so. Certainly, the big shops can afford that, but if you're a lone dev out there building mobile apps, fuggedaboutit. Or if you're a five-person dev shop, it's very likely out of your price range, too.

Here's how one developer, "Sam", responded after our story: "...99% of developers will never use this feature because MS has put it behind a $13,000 paywall."

"John Christman" agrees with him: "It is truly a great developer tool.. I have no clue why (other than greed) that it was bundled in Ultimate. I could see this, perhaps as being a reason to upgrade to Premium, but Ultimate is too much."

"Bob Marshall" says, "Sorry Microsoft, as cool as CodeLens is, it is not a reason for my company to upgrade our MSDN accounts from Premium to Ultimate."

I've asked Microsoft about the possibility of making CodeLens available at a lower tier. I'll let you know what they say (if anything). My take is that Microsoft is making a big mistake by keeping this out of so many developers' hands. The majority of developers I talk to use Visual Studio Professional, and most are still on Visual Studio 2010. That's pretty much the way the world works: developers, just like most admins, don't upgrade to the new version of a product right away (witness, as just one example, the way Windows XP has held on and on and on...). I'd bet that Microsoft could motivate a significant swath of its developer army to upgrade to Visual Studio 2013 right now if it moved CodeLens into the Professional version. Sure, Microsoft would give up the huge margin from Ultimate subscriptions, but it would gain a ton of new Visual Studio 2013 users.

Note that I didn't say it's wrong for Microsoft to keep CodeLens at the Ultimate level; it can do whatever it wants. It spent the time and resources building CodeLens, and it's perfectly justified in letting the market decide whether CodeLens is worth the price hike for enough devs. But Ultimate is more than double the price of Premium, its downstream neighbor. Absolutely, they get a lot more for their money with Ultimate, including more Windows Azure credits. But I do think it's short-sighted: since most developers can't afford it no matter what goodies it has, it's immaterial to them.

Visual Studio 2013 is the most mobile- and cloud-friendly version of the IDE Microsoft has ever released. There could be real benefits to getting developers onto that version so they can build Windows 8 and Windows Phone 8 apps, and build up those ecosystems more quickly. My gut instinct is that the majority of developers will stay with Visual Studio 2010 Professional (or even earlier versions) because they don't see enough compelling reasons to upgrade. CodeLens, at the Professional level, could provide that reason. Why deny them that, Microsoft?

Posted by Keith Ward on 10/29/2013

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