Peel away the hype and what you get is a powerful development suite for building Web-based applications.

First Look: Visual Studio.NET Revealed

Peel away the hype and what you get is a powerful development suite for building Web-based applications.

"May you live in interesting times" - a blessing or a curse? Depends. Nonetheless, this about sums up Microsoft's Visual Studio.NET, tremendous promise that's guaranteed to challenge you. Let's peel away the hype and see what's really happening.

Obligatory disclaimer: This is a look at beta 1 so things can, may, and will change before the final product hits the shelves.

Product Information
Visual Studio.NET Release Candidate 1, pricing to be determined (this review is based on a beta version)
Microsoft Corporation
Redmond, Washington

Visual Studio.NET is built on the new .NET framework and just about all development revolves around this Internet-centric framework. The .NET framework attempts to consolidate all the differing foundation classes and APIs used by tools that have been developed in parallel to each other for quite some time. It also features the new Common Language Runtime, a combination runtime and application manager. The CLR is responsible for managing memory, threads and dependencies. The framework also features Active Server Pages.NET, which tries to bring the best of forms to Web development.

In this incarnation, Visual Studio.NET appears more like a single tool with multiple dialects rather than an integrated suite. Interestingly, Visual C++, Visual Basic and Visual Interdev now share an integrated development environment. That IDE has gone through some slight improvements in the interface. For example, it now relies on tabs (see Figure 1). The main workspace is a tabbed work area where you do all user interface design and you place all code windows. This metaphor works really well since you can get at what you need quickly and easily. In the code windows you get a nice tree view that allows you to collapse and expand functions, procedures, etc. Generated Code is clearly marked.

Figure 1. Three core tools Visual C++, Visual Basic and Visual Interdev now share an IDE; the interface has also gone through some improvements.

The supporting windows such as those for Properties, Solution Explorer and Output are also tabbed. You can float them in the workspace or layer them together in a dockable window. To undock a window from the collection, you simply right-click on a window and choose the Floating option. Another option in the right-click menu is the Auto Hide option. You can now auto-hide a window, similar to how the Windows Taskbar works. The only difference is that the tab remains visible until you hover over it with your mouse. It takes some practice to work with these new features, but you may notice that you're more efficient once you get used to them.

The IDE help system has also been improved. You'll find the typical Content and Index tabs, but there's also a Dynamic Help tab that reacts to what you're doing - essentially, it's like context-sensitive help for the developer. As you're working on a line of code, you'll see the help topics for the command or object.

Noticeably missing are Visual Interdev and Visual J++, which are being replaced by C# (pronounced "see-sharp"). Designed to work within the .NET framework, Microsoft calls C# an "evolution of C and C++" that's "simple, type safe and object oriented." It also seems to be a convergence of Visual C++, Visual Basic and Visual FoxPro (Visual FoxPro 7.0 is in development, as are updates to Visual C++ and VB). If you're a Visual C++ developer, you'll more readily find C# to be a powerful, flexible tool that allows you to take advantage of the benefits of the .NET framework.

Any significant new release of a product means new, innovative features, but in this release, these new features only affect each of the tools in varying degrees. VFP and C++ developers are going to get over the learning curve earliest because the changes to these tools should have the least impact on current applications. VB developers, on the other hand, may find the migration path to the .NET framework difficult if not impossible due to the changes that have to be implemented to take advantage of the .NET framework.

Visual Studio.NET will probably not have much impact upon its final release - the changes in the languages will make wide corporate acceptance difficult until it's proven to be stable. Slated for a mid to late 2001 release, don't expect momentum to build until at least some time in 2002.

Regardless of your preferred Microsoft language, you should plan to spend some serious time learning to take full advantage of Visual Studio.NET and the .NET framework. You can get started now by grabbing a copy of the beta for yourself at; it's available there for download or you can order it on CD with a small shipping fee.

About the Author

Paul G. Brown, MCSD, a developer, speaker, and a frequent contributor to, lives in New Berlin, Illinois. When not in front of the computer, he can be found chasing Jerry, Wesley, Jordan and Dillon for Mom.

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