Microsoft Releases Visual Studio '15' Preview 4

Microsoft announced the release of Visual Studio "15" Preview 4, which introduces a more streamlined installation experience for developers.

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Microsoft has announced the release of Visual Studio "15" Preview 4, the latest edition of its flagship developer toolset that introduces a host of bug fixes and new improvements including a new installation experience for developers.

The new installation experience is designed to reduce the minimum footprint of Visual Studio, install more quickly with less system impact and uninstall cleanly, and make it easier for developers to select and install just the features they need, Microsoft said.

"The highlight of this release is that nearly all of VS is running on the new setup engine, resulting in a smaller, faster and less impactful installation," said John Montgomery, Microsoft's director of program management for Visual Studio, in a blog post on the new release. "The smallest install is less than 500 MB on disk (compared to 6GB in the previous release of Visual Studio). There are a couple of 'workloads' that aren't present yet, including .NET Core tooling and Azure tooling, but the rest of the existing VS 2015 feature set is available."

Montgomery also noted that there are "a couple of important caveats" related to Preview 4. One is that that it is an unsupported preview "so don't install it on machines that you rely on for critical production work." The other is that Preview 4 should work side by side with previous versions of Visual Studio, but users should remove any previous Visual Studio "15" Preview installations before beginning the setup process.

Microsoft also revamped the Start Page experience by adding new Open and Create features to the most frequently used Recent list and the News feed.

Also, despite the smallest VS "15" install being less than 500MB, it still contains basic code editing support for more than 20 languages along with debugging and source code control. Most users will want to install more, and so developers can add one or more of 16 "workloads" that represent common frameworks, languages and platforms—covering everything from .NET desktop development to data science with R, Python and F#, according to the Visual Studio "15" Preview 4 release notes.

Microsoft also added a number of C++ improvements to this release. The company updated the Visual Studio C++ compiler and standard library with enhanced support for C++11 and C++14 features, as well as preliminary support for certain features expected to be in the C++17 standard. The most notable compiler changes are support for Variable Templates and constexpr improvements, Microsoft said.

This release also previews some improvements to Microsoft's IntelliSense technology that will make developers more productive when working in a large solution or an unfamiliar codebase. IntelliSense is Microsoft's code completion and context-aware help facility for developers.

Overall, Microsoft's move to take its .NET platform cross-platform and to support all different kinds of development from the Visual Studio toolset had bloated its size. So now Microsoft is moving to provide developers with a streamlined acquisition experience for Visual Studio, based on the type of development they are involved in.

At its Build 2016 conference, Microsoft delivered the first preview of the next version of Visual Studio and gave an early look at a lightweight acquisition experience with Visual Studio.

"The challenges we are seeing with our customers is that as we pivoted to support any developers building for any applications on any platform, the application model matrix is really exploding," Julia Liuson, Microsoft's corporate vice president of Visual Studio, told eWEEK in an interview earlier this year.

That's one of the problems the company is tackling—how to provide customers with a far more optimized experience for the particular workload that they are working on.

For instance, if developers just want to do Python programming, they don't really need all of the Visual Studio mobile tools or the cloud tools. If they're doing Xamarin development, they don't necessarily need all of the cloud and server development offerings.

"We're working on more workload-oriented acquisition experiences for our customers," Liuson said. "So when the product comes down to their machine, it's easily updateable and they can get the pieces they need easily. And what they decide not to use they can get rid of easily."

This is a key experience Microsoft is delivering with the next release of Visual Studio, code-named Visual Studio 15. Preview 4 introduces the new workload experience.