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What's new and different in Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 (Professional)

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Visual Studio 2012 Screenshot

The first version of Visual Studio I saw was 1.5 sometime in the 90s but Visual C++ 4.1 was the first time I used it and there has been a steady stream of releases roughly every three years since then with 2012 being the new kid on the block.

It's the jewel in Microsoft's crown and encomnpasses multiple compilers and support for C, C++, C#, F#, Visual BAsic.Net, and now JavaScript, as well as Winforms, WPF, SIlverlight, ASP.NET, ASP.NET MVC (now 3 and 4), Office 2010, SharePoint and SQL Server development.

As my efforts are focused on C,C++, C# and some of the related technologies, I'll view Visual Studio from those perspectives. Note this is the Professional version; the one I guess most developers will use.

Also I'm not running Windows 8 so I'm having to exclude features related to that from this.

Visual Studio 2012 is a very encompassing piece of software with many many features so I'm looking here mainly at what's new. rather than cover everything. Also, some of that new stuff is coding related (e.g. asynchronous programming) and I'll cover that in other articles.

Look and Feel

This is the second version of Visual Studio that uses WPF as the technology and it feels very snappy. Microsoft is becoming the Madonna of IDE, changing the looks of it as often as she reinvents herself and her music. And like her, it attracts criticism for being unconventional. By going for instance with an all Caps top menu LIKE THIS. Other menus still use lower case so don't panic. I don't find it that bad.

Colors are black, white and blue. Compared to Visual Studio 2010 it has a cleaner, more open "white spaces" look. It's probably about 90% similar to Visual Studio 2010 in features, the usual 30ish toolbars are available. There seem to be a few more icons under the Solution Explorer Caption (for C#) with filtering of both pending changes (if you use a Version Control System I suspect) and open files if selected. There's also a second line with a combo which lets you search the Solution Explorer. The Toolbox also a similar Search Toolbox and search itself can now handle regular expressions but backward search has been dropped.

For C++?

For C++ the New project only shows five types (Win 32 Console, MFC Application, Win 32 Project, Empty Project and Makefile project) but the rest (ATL,CLR, MFC, Test and WIn 32 ) are still available only in sub-menus, different from VS 2010 which sowed all by default. As is the fashion, each version of Visual Studio works side by side with existing ones.

Creating a new project in C++ is the same as before with the addition of SDL (Security Development Lifecycle) checks which are included by default but can be omitted. There's more colorizations of C++ and intellisense has been improved for classes. Start typing the classname e.g. Combat:: and you get a list of methods popping up.

C++ has had a number of improvements with this release. Read the complete list but summing up:

New STL headers and memory use in std::vector and std::map containers has shrunk by 25% and 50% each. There are ranged based "For loops" and support for an enum class. SSE is used automatically as an optimization. It will also auto-parallelize on multi core. This is in addition to targeting the GPU with AMP (Accelerated Massive Parallelism). Plus the parallel Paterns library introduced are VS2012 are enhanced; you can even debug with a Parallel Watch window.

The IDE lets you insert C++ Code contructs for switc, if else, for..loop and others. Also if you select a symbol, all instances of it are highlighted.

And C#?

The Async and Await keywords make it simple to write aysnchronous code. I'll cover that in another post but it does simplify dealing with slow running code and still keeping the GUI responsive; that's the idea. With Windows 8 touch interface, anything that takes more than 50 ms should use asynchronous programming.

Bear in mind that while C# hasn't got that much new stuff in this release, most of the new code is in .NET 4.5 and you need to have that installed to install Visual Studi0 2012. The Microsoft code page has plenty of examples of code specifically for Visual Studio 2012, currently around 875.

Code Analysis

New I think in the Professional version is Code Analysis which analyzes managed assemblies and reports information about the assemblies, such as violations of the programming and design rules set forth in the Microsoft .NET Framework Design Guidelines. If I'm not mistaken this is a new version of the old FXCop. It appears as a new item on the Project Property sheet.

Improved Help

Over the years, help in Visual Studio has been a bit hit and miss with Windows Help, .chm files and help viewers. Around ten years ago back in the multi CD days, it was quite good but then internet downloading came along and it never seemed as good. I think they've got it about right with this version. It's all web pages but you can specify what you want downloaded and viewable locally. The local viewer looks to be built on Internet Explorer with multiple tabs etc but it works well.

Conclusion

Despite the upper menu case, this is a decent release but there's nothing really exciting unless you count Expression Blend (which is an optional install) but that only works on Windows 8 for developing for Windows Store Apps. There's a preview version of Blend + Sketchflow Preview for Visual Studio with support for WPF versions 3.5, 4 and 4.5, Silverlight 4/5 that will run on Windows 7 SP 1. (see Details for more information.

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