The next versions of Visual Studio are here on Windows ... and Mac

Visual Studio '15' gets a real name, and Microsoft bestowed the VS brand on Xamarin Studio

Microsoft's Connect developer conference kicked off Wednesday with some expected news: The next versions of the Visual Studio IDE have arrived on Windows and Mac. (Yep, you read that right.)

After a set of leaks from MSDN Magazine on Monday, the company officially confirmed Wednesday morning that it's bestowing the Visual Studio brand on Xamarin Studio, a C# development environment for the Mac that the company acquired earlier this year when it bought the company of the same name. In addition, Microsoft's confusingly named Visual Studio "15" has been officially renamed Visual Studio 2017 and given a release candidate at the show.

Microsoft also launched Visual Studio Mobile Center, a portal for developers to access a suite of services all aimed at making it easier to create mobile apps.

The moves are part of Microsoft's ongoing push to expand the reach of its developer tools and improve what they're capable of. The C# programming language and .NET frameworks are widely used, but also compete with a wide variety of other programming tools. By expanding the capabilities available to developers who already know those tools, Microsoft is making them more relevant.

The Visual Studio for Mac rebranding doesn't confer any new features that weren't already available in Xamarin Studio. But Microsoft sees the Xamarin name as synonymous with mobile development, which is only one of the things the Mac IDE is capable of. Thanks to Microsoft's open sourcing of its .NET programming framework, Visual Studio for Mac is able to access some of the same tools and services used by the Windows version of Visual Studio, like the Roslyn compiler, the MSBuild build platform and the IntelliSense code-completion system.

It will be interesting to see how Microsoft improves Visual Studio for Mac going forward. The company has typically taken a somewhat uneven approach to supporting the Mac with its Office productivity suite, and there typically isn't feature parity between one version of Word and another.

It seems likely that the company won't offer the exact same features on Visual Studio for Mac and Windows, but there's still some question about what the difference between the two platforms will be.

The Visual Studio 2017 release candidate on Windows is a sign that Microsoft thinks the next version of its Windows development environment is nearing completion. It's been around as Visual Studio "15" (yes, with the quotes) for about half a year after Microsoft Build earlier this year. 

On top of its desktop IDEs, Microsoft supports a wide variety of different mobile development services, like the Xamarin Test Cloud, which lets developers see how their apps run on a wide variety of mobile devices, and HockeyApp, a tool for deploying beta versions of mobile apps. The company is taking all of those tools and rolling them up into the Visual Studio Mobile Center.

The portal could be a boon for both developers and Microsoft. The tech giant has acquired and launched a whole host of differently named services, all aimed at helping developers be more productive. Giving them a one-stop shop to find all of those tools could increase usage.

All of this news is part of a massive suite of announcements that the company made Wednesday at its Connect conference. Microsoft also revealed that it's now a part of the Linux Foundation, and announced that Google joined the .NET Foundation.

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Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
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