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Simplified Development Tools-The Microsoft Express Products

  • By Bradley L. Jones
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The Official Release

The Express Products are betas. Just like Visual Studio 2005, they are not ready to be used for production work. Rather, they have been released so you can take a look at them and see what they can do. The official release is expected to coincide with Visual Studio 2005. Microsoft is currently stating that this is expected in the first half of 2005.

First Thoughts on the Products

In a separate article, I will present a closer look at one of the Express products by walking you through the installation and first time use of Visual C# Express Edition.

My first impression of the product was that it truly did appear to be simpler than the other versions of Visual Studio; however, I don't know that it goes to the level of "easy-to-use" that I would have hoped. It is, however, just a beta product at this time, so maybe it will be even easier to use by the time it officially releases.

The installation of the product is relatively easy. It does, however, take several steps through several dialogs. Most of the questions during installation are easy to answer. Once installed, the program is easy to start up. From there, however, things get a little shaky.

The main startup screen (see Figure 1) is simple and crisp. The information on it is presented in a well-organized manner and includes lots of links to helpful tutorials and starting points.

Click here for a larger image.

Figure 1: The Visual C# Express Edition Start Up Window.

If you click on one of the links, you will be presented with information that is generally easy to follow. After this, however, is where the first problem could occur.

If you want to go back to the main page as shown in Figure 1, you may have a problem. There is no intuitive way to return to that page. The primary audience for this product may have a hard time figuring this out.

From the perspective of someone who has been using Visual C#, it is obvious that this is a much simpler version. The clutter that now inundates the menus of Microsoft products is gone. Only the more important menu items exist in this product. Also simplified is the selection of products to create.

While being uncluttered can be a good thing, it also can be a bad thing. Whereas developers are used to windows that slide in and out and can be tacked down, hobbyists and non-programmers are not going to be as familiar with these paradigms. In some cases, a little clutter can make a product easier to use.

The addition of Starter Kit products into the product should make it easier for the non-programmer to tap into these added resources. The inclusion of documentation with them is also a boon. Unfortunately, typos and broken code in the beta could be a bust for novices who are trying to use the information. The Screen Saver starter kit (documentation shown in Figure 2) had at least one critical typo in the code as well as other typos that could derail a novice.

Click here for a larger image.

Figure 2: The Screen Saver Starter Kit Documentation Page.

The Express tools still require that you program. As such, non-programmers will have to learn the programming language to really customize or create an application. There is simply no way around that. While these products seem like a scaled down versions of the other Visual Studio products, it seems to me that the answer of a "programming" tool for hobbyists may be better built from the ground up with a programming language that is more elementary.

Getting the Products

The betas for the Express Editions will be available from the Microsoft Web site. The Express Editions can be downloaded now from http://lab.msdn.microsoft.com/express/.

The Express Editions are simplified versions of the other versions of Visual Studio 2005. This means that programs created in these editions should be completely compatible with the other editions. Programs created with the full versions of Visual Studio 2005 should load into the Express Editions; however, any advanced features may not be accessible. You cannot, however, user Express Edition projects in older versions of Visual Studio

In Conclusion

Microsoft is working hard to expand the Visual Studio product line. With Team System, they are expanding into the enterprise and providing robust tools for hardcore developers doing large-scale solutions development. Equally important, they are working to provide simpler products for the hobbyist, student, and other non-professional developer who doesn't want to invest a lot of money and who doesn't need the complexity of the standard development tools. While the Express tools are not as easy to use as I would like them to be, they are a move in the right direction.

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This article was originally published on June 29, 2004

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