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What's New in Visual Studio .NET "Whidbey"

  • October 27, 2003
  • By Bradley L. Jones
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The next version of Visual Studio .NET isn't due to release for about another year, yet once again Microsoft has officially announced an early preview of the product for developers. Code named "Whidbey," this version promises much more in change than the last version, Visual Studio .NET 2003—changes within the tool, the languages, and the Framework. Microsoft products seem to have a history of catching on in their third version. Time will tell whether this is true for Visual Studio .NET as well.

It is interesting to note that when the first version of Visual Studio .NET released a couple of years ago, it was stated that "a programming language is just a language" and that the real power of .NET was in the framework. A tool such as Visual Studio was supposed to make using one language very similar to using any other language. As such, it didn't matter which language you selected; the end results would be virtually the same.

A few years have passed, and the theory of the language not mattering has gone by the wayside. Many developers are cheering this decision. With Whidbey, it is becoming clearer that different languages will have different focuses.

The Whidbey Objectives

For Whidbey, there were a number of objectives that led to the changes. These objectives were in the areas of making the development environment easier, faster, and richer for developers to use. You'll find that there are indeed a number of features in Whidbey that are easier to use than in current versions of Visual Studio .NET. This includes features ranging from the setting of tool and environment options to the binding of keys within the IDE.

You'll also find that the extensibility has been improved with the addition of new "My classes," new IntelliTask items, new code snippets, customized profiles (color schemes, key bindings, window layouts, and more), debugger visualizations, and new starter kits.

There are a number of changes that impact the specific languages in Whidbey—Visual C++ .NET, C#, Visual Basic .NET, and Visual J# .NET. There are other changes that impact them all. I'll outline some of the key things you'll see when you take a look at Whidbey. Before touching on each language, it is worth mentioning some of the changes to the IDE. I should also note that while I cover a lot of changes in this article, these are just a few of the changes.

Changes to the Visual Studio .NET IDE

There are a few subtle changes within the Whidbey IDE that will quickly become as valuable as such subtleties as IntelliSense. Additionally, you'll find that Microsoft has tried to do more than just step back—they have also tried to get out of your (the developer's) way.

Helpful Help and Startup Stuff

When you start Whidbey, you'll find that instead of being thrown into a startup screen that is loaded with everything you would ever want, other than your actual product, you will now be given a much cleaner environment.

There has been an effort to keep the project at the forefront of the IDE and the support easily accessible around the edges. For example, there is now a Getting Started Smart Pane rather than the tab in the middle of the editing area. Additionally, Whidbey is starting to incorporate more features to help you get started. This includes a number of QuickStart videos to help you with topics such as data, objects, and using some of the tools (such as the Code Stencil).

Although they are keeping the support and help files out of the way, this does not mean they are scaling back in what is provided. For example, Microsoft has been releasing more and more Starter Kits (see Q&A with Shawn Nandi on the ASP.NET Starter Kits). These starter kits, as well as other project templates, are being incorporated into the help features of Whidbey. Also included are a number of other Community Web Services, including helpful information from some third-party (non-Microsoft) places.

"Intelli-" Intelligent Stuff

One of the features of Visual Studio .NET that is quickly driving developers away from using NotePad is IntelliSense. Not to be bested, in Whidbey, IntelliSense is improved upon by the addition of an auto-correction feature. Instead of simply telling you something is wrong with those squiggly little red lines, Whidbey goes one step farther. You will be able to click on a control to see a drop-down list of suggested corrections for the error.

Going beyond IntelliSense, you get IntelliTask. Simply put, IntelliTask tries to simplify common tasks. There are a number of tasks that are done the same way nearly every time. IntelliTasks will help you by reducing the typing you need to do. IntelliTasks include things such as a switch statement, an if...else statement, iterating over an array, and more. Granted, these are simple tasks. IntelliTasks, however, will let you type a little less and help you avoid mistakes a little more.

If you want something more complex than IntelliTasks, you'll be happy to find the Code Snippets. Code Snippets will provide templates for more complex tasks.





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