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Free Tools for Visual Studio from the Gallery

Several readers pointed out that, in my review of Visual Studio 2010, I gave short shrift to the extensions available in the Visual Studio Gallery from the Tools | Extension Manager menu. Actually, those readers said that I was overlooking one of the best features of Visual Studio 2010. Many of those tools also work in Visual Studio 2008 and 2005 (Visual Studio 2010's Gallery just makes it easier to get to them), so it really is a shame not to look at them.

Here are some of my favorites from the Gallery: one that works only in 2010 and two that work in earlier versions of Visual Studio. Recognize that this list is driven almost entirely my own preferences and the kind of things that I do with Visual Studio -- your list would almost certainly be different.

Visual Studio 2010 Power Tools
Several of the Gallery downloads are grab bags of useful tools. It's worth investigating all of them but I like this package best because of (and I know this going to sound trivial) the new options it provides for tabs. For instance, with Power Tools installed, when you reach the maximum number of tabs that will fit at the top of your editor window (the "document well"), Visual Studio removes the least recently used tab rather than the tab furthest to the right. You can also pin tabs for the documents you don't want to ever go away. Putting these two features together means that the tabs you want are far more likely to be still on the screen when you want them.

Beyond the tabs, Power Tools provides a new, searchable Add Reference dialog, which saves you scrolling down to the start of the "System" libraries (but isn't available for "projectless" ASP.NET Web sites). My favorite other feature: Align Assignments, which lines up the equal signs over multiple lines containing assignment statements. Unfortunately, you have to invoke it with a keyboard macro, but it's one I'll probably actually learn. After all, neatness counts!

tangible T4 Code Editor
I wrote about code generation in my book and spent a chapter and a case study covering T4. There's still no native T4 editor for Visual Studio, but you can get the free version of tangible's T4 editor from the Gallery (versions are also available for earlier versions). You really need to be investigating code generation and T4 is a good place to start. tangible's editor makes it that little bit easier to write templates.

Open Data Protocol Editor
I discussed WCF Data Services in the Practical ASP.NET column -- it makes returning Entity Framework objects to clients ridiculously easy. The format that's used for moving those EF entities around is ODP and this visualizer lets you see what your client is actually getting.

My only complaint: I can only use the Visualizer in a client program and there've been times when, creating the service, I've wanted to know what my clients will actually be getting. This is another tool that works in multiple versions of Visual Studio.

JavaScipt Parser
This tool also works with Visual Studio 2005 and 2008. As the amount of JavaScript in my aspx files has increased, just finding my way to the JavaScript routine I want has become a significant part of my programming time. JavaScript Parser provides a new tool window that lists all of my JavaScript routines and prototypes in one place and lets me jump to them just by double clicking on it. It's not the most polished tool I've ever worked with (hover your mouse over the refresh button and it displays the tooltip "toolstripButton3", for instance) but it works for me.

Posted by Peter Vogel on 06/28/2010 at 1:16 PM

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