So today is the day everyone gets to see if that monochrome/metro UI look for Visual Studio Dev 11 works. Given the huge number of “constructive criticism” comments that everyone gave on the first look it will be very interesting to see what people think once they get their hands on it. Because of some work I am doing I’ve been using some of the beta builds full time for the last couple of weeks. In this post I want to give you some impressions and point you to a couple of key features that I’ve fallen in love with.
In a nutshell, the overall new UI look is quite dull and I feel even stronger that color needs to be added back. One of the new UI changes I do very much love the blue highlight around the tool window that has focus. Now you know instantly which window where your typing will go and I wish that window focus hint could be back ported to Visual Studio 2010. While I’m getting better at what some of those black on grey icons do, I’m having to stop much more with the mouse hovering over the button to see what it does through the tool tip. I’d love to see how the methodology of the iconography study mentioned in the initial blog post because I haven’t talked to too many people who can recognize many of them at a glance.
What bothers me most about the new UI kerfuffle is the marketing failure on how the changes were announced. There’s nothing wrong with moving my cheese if it’s going to make my life better. There are so many amazing changes for the better in Dev 11 that you will not only gladly have your cheese moved, you’ll happily change the flavor. I was frankly shocked that the first pieces of information about the Beta shown were static screen shots (with a ton of cheese moving for no apparent benefit) and emphasis on minor features. The second blog entry on the UI was better as it focused on usable features such as the Hub and Pivots, but those are still smaller features compared to everything else in the Dev 11 Beta.
Marketing 101, and common sense, says to go out with the strongest best features first. By having the first look being something divisive and not showing off what’s amazing about the product, the poor impression lingers and hurts everything else being announced. Compounding this marketing misstep was Microsoft’s recent history of jerking around the development community a little over Windows 8 and massively with Silverlight. As developers who’ve bet our careers and companies on Microsoft we can’t afford many more marketing screw-ups like we’ve been seeing lately. Make no mistake they’ve built another great release of our every day tool. My main feature request for the release after Dev 11 is for marketing and management to shove everything else aside and have an actual plan that all changes must make the majority of users day to day work demonstrably easier and more productive. If it doesn’t meet those criteria, it’s cut immediately.
I’m sorry for going off on the sidetrack about marketing, but I really do feel it is the weakest part of Dev 11. You came hear to read about the experience of using the new Beta. Since there’s going to be tons of information about these features from Microsoft today I won’t go into details about usage but want mention a few key features that have delighted me to no end as I’ve been using Dev 11 and ones you should concentrate on.
One feature in particular needs a proper introduction: THE UNIT TESTING TOOLS IN DEV 11 ARE BEYOND H*@#Y S&#@T F@#&!!*G AWESOME! (I apologize for that outburst but I can’t help it.) While the tools have been pretty good for .NET development, albeit with some very sharp and painful edges, the new unit testing across all languages, including native C++, integrates seamlessly with your day-to-day work. I moved over a fairly large C++ project and was thrilled to see it’s trivial to implement tests and has the same integration as .NET. Everything is first class now and the Run Tests After Build is so obvious I don’t know how we lived without it!
With many of us using TFS as our ALM system it’s nice to see a lot of love given to the friction points in dealing with tasks, bugs, and version control. The new Team Explorer Pane is simply sublime. All the modal dialog hell that used to be TFS is all gone and many things now happen in the background like check in, search, and automatic updating of pending changes. It really is a radical rethink of the entire usage model for team development. At your fingertips you have everything you need to see what’s happening. My new favorite keystrokes all start with CTRL+0 (that’s zero) because to get to the pending changes in the Team Explorer Pane is CTRL+0, P, where the builds are CTRL+0,B and so on.
Another feature related to TFS is the shift to local workspaces. In VS 2010, working with TFS was mostly OK if you were permanently connected to your TFS server. Trying to work offline from your TFS server was pretty painful as it was up to you to manage adding and removing files. Don’t get me started on the reliance on the read only flag for files or file changes from external tools weren’t picked up. Compared to the SVN experience, TFS wasn’t so great.
That’s all changed as with local workspaces, there’s really no difference between online and offline mode. You work with your projects anywhere and any changes made by you in VS or a quick change to a file with Notepad2 are automatically seen and ready to go as soon as you connect back to your TFS server.
What you’ll see different on your disk is a directory called $tfs under the root of the top workspace directory. That’s where TFS stores super compressed versions of the files and data. A background file watcher scans the differences between this cache and the file system to automatically pick up all pending changes including file updates, adds, and deletes. The VS 2010 way of finding updates was to pull up the Pending Changes dialog and look for all the changes by pounding on the server. Now the client does the work a tiny bit at the time so you have a real time view. It’s kind of hard to describe just how nice it is to just work with your projects and code with all changes ready to check in at a moments notice.
As someone who loves all things debugging and profiling, the new IntelliTrace the new standalone collector is going to change your life. Being able to capture a “video” of your application in production instead of just a minidump is huge. It’s actually very easy to use and Microsoft has already posted a page that shows all the steps: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/hh398365(v=VS.110).aspx. With rich PowerShell support just go ahead and make the stand-alone IntelliTrace collector part of your standard server install so it’s ready at a moments notice. You’ll want to set up training for your network administrators so they can start collecting the “videos” as soon as they see a problem.
Let me make very clear that I do feel that Dev 11 is a hugely valuable release and something you’ll quickly fall in love with because of features that will make your life better. I know Microsoft has heard us regarding color so I suspect things will get brighter in the future, no pun intended. The real test of the value of Dev 11 is that I don’t like going back to Visual Studio 2010.