Visual Studio 2012: what it means for tools development

17 September 2012

On September 12, Microsoft released the latest version of our favorite IDE: Visual Studio 2012 at what might be termed a rather purple launch event. The photo at right is the lobby of the event and the purple theme was propagated everywhere (seats, restrooms, visuals).

View from the VS2012 launch eventConsidering that VS2012 has been in a pretty public beta for a while, I’m sure you have some idea about what it contains and what the changes are from Visual Studio 2010 (our previous favorite version), but I’d just like to take a look at the product from a high-level vantage point.

Let’s approach this from the world of the consumer—after all it is the end-user, the consumer of our software, who is dictating more and more what our software should do. Consumers are increasingly looking to having their digital world with them at all times: they have smartphones of various brands and OSes, they use tablets at home and at work, they want their data to travel with them and not a particular device. Retail consumer applications are getting more sophisticated, and at the same time sporting a simpler interface and experience. We developers have to follow these trends or fall by the wayside, and VS2012 is a great leap forward, especially when mated with great UI controls from DevExpress.

Since VS2012 has been available for a while in various beta incarnations, I’m sure you know about the changes to its look and feel. Rather than hash another tired argument about whether this new UX (user experience) is good or bad, I’d like to approach it from an angle I’ve been using for a while: letting the UX inspire and influence the visual aspects of your apps. Consider the typography and the spacing of visual elements in VS2012 and the interactions needed to get your work done. How can you apply those aspects and techniques to your own designs?

Waiting for the start of the VS2012 launch eventFrom my viewpoint, I’d say there are possibly two overriding goals for VS2012: creating applications that target a variety of devices, from smartphones to tablets (including the up-coming Microsoft Surface), to ultrabooks and laptops, to desktops and servers; and creating the cloud infrastructure using Azure (or maybe the new ASP.NET Web API) to store and serve data to these applications. Clients can be native (which for touch devices implies Windows 8) or browser-based. Although it’s plainly evident that VS2012 would have thorough support for designing and creating apps for the Windows Store as well as desktop apps for Windows 8, it also has some impressive new tooling and features to help in creating web apps: better JavaScript Intellisense, debugging, HTML5 support, and a DOM explorer, as well as push-button deployment to Azure.

C# and Visual Basic have changed as well, with possibly the most important and exciting feature being simplified asynchronous programming using async and await. These new keywords and the patterns they encapsulate are possibly the most significant aspect to creating responsive applications for phones and tablets, where it is paramount that the user remains in charge of their own device, no matter what may be happening in the background.

All in all, VS2012 is a significant step forward in the art of creating connected client applications for a multitude of different devices, that store their data somewhere in the cloud. And, these days, that is where the action is. Let’s see what develops…

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