Microsoft makes changes to Visual Studio 2005

Microsoft is making several changes to its upcoming Visual Studio 2005 development tools platform based on early user feedback. Changes include improvements pertaining to Visual C#, Web Forms, and icons.

Improvements range from adding "Edit and Continue" support to Visual C# to refinements of the "Intellisense" function for word recognition while typing.

User-driven rankings influenced which improvements were made. "With tools such as blogging and the MSDN [Microsoft Developer Network] Product Feedback Center, that's really opened us up to having a dialogue with the customers that we haven't been able to have before," said Brian Keller, a Microsoft product manager on the Visual Studio team.

Visual Studio 2005, code-named "Whidbey," is due to ship in the second half of this year and will feature a range of products including the Team System variant of Visual Studio for ALM (Application Lifecycle Management).

The user-driven improvement list begins with the ability to deploy updated and new icon sets with Visual Studio, a request that received 813 votes from users. This feature enables access to new icon sets that can be distributed with applications. Using an updated icon set makes it easier for developers to focus on code, Keller said.

"It's a bit surprising how popular this one was," Keller said. The icons feature will be of particular benefit to ISVs.

Adding Edit and Continue support for Visual C#, meanwhile, means developers can make changes to code during debugging without having to run a full compile against code, Keller said.

"It's a debug-and-change-as-you-go approach," Keller said. Edit and Continue has been part of Visual Basic. Some 399 users voted for Edit and Continue support in Visual C#.

"We originally were planning to provide Edit and Continue for Visual Basic 2005, and the Visual C# community came out and gave some very specific scenarios on how this would help them in their scenarios as well," Keller said.

Edit and Continue support for Visual C# is "extremely useful," said analyst Mike Gilpin, vice president and research director at Forrester Research.

"It allows you to maintain your train of thought when you're finding errors and correcting them rather than interrupt your debugging session," Gilpin said.

The third improvement pertains to a Component Tray feature for working with nongraphical components such as performance counters. Although it is in Visual Studio 2003, the tray is not included in Visual Studio 2005. The company is working on a fix, Keller said. The lack of a Component Tray is being addressed by adding a new Component Designer tab to Visual Studio 2005. The Component Tray request received 178 votes.

The tab is different from the Component Tray at the bottom of the forms designer, but it achieves the same functionality, according to Microsoft.

The fourth improvement pertains to limited tray icon support, whereby the System.Windows.Forms.NotifyIcon function does not support Balloon Help without using the Platform Invoke command. Specifically, developers want a managed interface for adding balloon-type messages to icons in the system tray, Keller said. The Platform Invoke command involves addressing a native Win32 interface in Windows as opposed to leveraging a collection of libraries exposed by the .Net framework.

This feature request, which received 174 votes, is being implemented as an API.

Developers also sought the ability to directly download Visual Studio 2005 Express Edition and install it offline, as opposed to having to install it while connected to the Internet. The request gathered 76 votes.

Users will also get ASP.Net Web Forms templates that do not use obsolete HTML. Developers will be able to drag and drop components onto Web forms, with HTML generated in the background. "Some of the HTML tags were considered obsolete," Keller said. So Microsoft went to a more recent version of HTML standards from the W3C. This feature request received 67 votes.

A bug fix receiving 53 votes pertained to building console-based applications that use a command line interface rather than a Windows Forms or Web Forms interface.

"When you build a command line application and compile and run that application from Visual Studio, sometimes the output window closes too quickly to see the results of your program" during debug mode, Keller said. "Now, by default when you run a command line app from within Visual Studio, the user will receive a 'Press any key to continue' prompt."

Microsoft also fixed Visual Studio 2005's Intellisense function, which tracks letters being typed and provides available commands for a particular class based on keystrokes. The function has been refined so it does not select a method too quickly. The Intellisense request received 50 votes.

Client-side validation, which enforces requirements such as having a user type in a ZIP code, has also been amended after 48 users cited a problem. Previously it only worked with Microsoft's IE browser in Visual Studio, but in Visual Studio 2005 it will work with other browsers, including Netscape and Firefox.

With its decision to accommodate browsers other than IE, Microsoft seeks to satisfy corporations that have been traditional IE users but now are embracing browsers such as Firefox, Gilpin said.

"Microsoft wants to continue getting those companies' business," Gilpin said.

Lastly, an ASP.Net run-time issue, also pertaining to browsers, has been mended. The ASP.Net "Menu" control had only behaved properly in IE. This, too, has been fixed so it will work with popular browsers such as Mozilla and Firefox. Microsoft did not provide the number of votes on this issue.

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