Microsoft announced the release of Visual Studio 2015 and .NET 4.6, the latest version of its flagship developer toolset and framework that deliver on the company’s cross-platform aspirations.
Last November, Microsoft announced plans to become all things to all developers by taking its .NET framework cross-platform to support Linux and Mac environments, and to deliver cross-platform capabilities in the Visual Studio toolset.
“These releases are the next big step in the journey we outlined last November to bring the productivity of Visual Studio and .NET to any developer working on any kind of application while also delivering a new level of innovation in developer productivity for all Visual Studio developers,” said S. “Soma” Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Developer Division in a blog post.
Somasegar said the advancements in Visual Studio 2015 come in three primary categories or themes: Innovation in the integrated development environment (IDE), openness and choice, and DevOps and agility.
Visual Studio 2015 and .NET 4.6 brings hundreds of new features for developers building for desktop, web, mobile, cloud and more. In terms of IDE innovation and developer productivity improvements, Microsoft enhanced productivity across debugging and diagnostics, code editing and refactoring, and programming languages.
Somasegar said Visual Studio 2015 unifies debugging and profiling into a single Diagnostics Tools window, bringing insights about the correctness and performance of your running application into context during development. “This allows developers to do debugging and get profile information and being able to update the code as they are looking at it,” Somasegar told eWEEK. “I think that’s going to be fantastic for developers.” Also, with PerfTips, developers get performance information right in their code as they set breakpoints and step with the debugger, he said.
“This release of Visual Studio feels like they put a lot more work into things that matter to developers and what they’re doing in the Visual Studio environment every day,” said Marty Lewis, product development manager at Synergex, a Microsoft partner that provides tools to help organizations develop and use business applications. “Some of the past changes going from 2010 to 2012 you saw some improvements to your debugging experience and your editor experience. But with this release you’ve got improvements to the debugger, you’ve got improvements to the diagnostics profile and you’ve got improvements to their primary visual tools. So now with XAML you can do the visual tree debugging live while you’re running the application. It’s an incredible improvement from a developer standpoint to actually have so many new tool improvements compared to past releases that had incremental and moderate tool improvements.”
Jeff Greene, senior software engineer at Synergex, said: “My personal favorite jump for VS2015 over VS2013 is the improvements they’ve been making in the development area and the profiling tools. So having the profiling tools always running has been really nice as a developer. It makes those profiling operations less of an afterthought and more of something you are constantly presented with throughout the development cycle, which really helps you get there, in the end, better because you’ve been seeing it the whole time.”
Also the QuickWatch dialog box in the debugger for C# has gotten a lot more full-featured, Greene said.
“Before you couldn’t evaluate lambda expressions and now you can,” he told eWEEK. “There are a lot of times when you’re working on collections of objects that your normal access pattern against this list of something is that you need to run a link method against it. And now you can. Whereas before you had to go edit the code and restart the debug cycle because you couldn’t edit and continue with lambdas. And it made the cycle a lot faster.”
Meanwhile, in the editor, C# and VB developers can use the new Roslyn-based tooling, including Light Bulbs that proactively suggest potential fixes or code refactorings, Somasegar said.
Moreover, along with Visual Studio 2015 and .NET 4.6 come the final versions of C# 6 and VB.NET 12. Visual Studio 2015 also includes improved support for C++ 11/14/17 along with TypeScript 1.5, F# 4.0 and tools for Python and dozens of other languages, Somasegar said.
Microsoft Ships Visual Studio 2015, .NET 4.6
“Light Bulbs highlights any ‘gotchas’ in your code – whether it is a syntax error or a semantics error or whatever it is you have in your code,” he said. “This happens right in the editor as you are working on your code.”
As part of its move to open up Visual Studio to developers from non-Microsoft environments, Visual Studio and .NET offer the ability to target new platforms, to use new programming languages, and to take existing skills and applications to new environments, Somasegar said.
“Whatever kind of application they are building, the one thing developers want is choice,” Somasegar said in an interview. “They want a choice of what language they use, they want a choice of what programming stack they use, they want a choice of what platform they want to be targeting, they want a choice of what environment. We took that to heart and we enable you to use C# and .NET to build mobile apps and we enable you to extend that to iOS and Android. We also allow you to use C++ for cross-platform mobile development. We provide tooling for Apache Cordova that enables you to do cross-platform mobile development.”
Visual Studio 2015 includes cross-platform mobile development tools for building applications targeting iOS, Android and Windows, and offers choice in what languages and technologies to use to develop mobile applications. It also includes a high-performance Visual Studio Emulator for Android for debugging and testing Android applications.
“The Visual Studio Android emulator has been pretty important to improving our productivity,” Synergex’s Greene said. “The Google emulators are incredibly slow. The Microsoft Android emulator is a night and day difference. Everything seems to run at full native speed of the host processor. And it dramatically reduces the amount of time it takes for us to run our test suites. It used to take a day on the Google emulator and now takes one or two hours.”
Synergex got on board with Visual Studio 2015 early on with the preview builds. And as Microsoft began releasing more of its cross-platform tools, Synergex had to make changes to its back-end development processes because Microsoft suddenly gave them the ability to start building all of their native components for their native run time on one build server instead of on a series of different servers as they had in the past, Lewis said.
Synergex’s Synergy/DE is a suite of software development tools for building cross-platform, enterprise applications. Synergy/DE is built around Synergy DBL, the company’s object-oriented programming language designed for business that runs in multiple environments including .NET.
Greene said Synergex’s tools also run on Xamarin-supported platforms, so the Synergy/DE language also runs on Android and iOS. Part of the language running anywhere is that Synergy has to have the language’s run time as a supplement to the .NET Framework. The language features some native components such that Synergy has to build those for all of the different platforms the company supports. So the cross-platform C++ technology Microsoft includes in Visual studio 2015 makes that task easier.
“We have native components for Linux and Android and we’re working on iOS,” Lewis said. “It’s a world of difference from where we were at just before the release of these tools, where we had to go to all of these individual systems, make sure all the sources were in sync, do all these separate build processes and then bring them all together. Now we can do it all in one place thanks to Microsoft’s tools.”
Asked if Visual Studio 2015 is truly a cross-platform development tool, Somasegar said, “I would say a resounding yes. You can use Visual Studio 2015 to target any platform of your choice. It is absolutely a cross-platform development tool. At the same time, Windows is still our flagship platform and we have a great tool set in Visual Studio 2015 for Windows app development, including tools for Windows 10 to let you take advantage of the Universal Windows application platform and target the current ecosystem of Windows devices.”
Microsoft Ships Visual Studio 2015, .NET 4.6
“Yes, it really is a cross-platform tool,” Lewis said. “It does a great job of letting us build some native components for our cross-platform stuff, and since we layer on top of Xamarin, we’re able to deploy our .NET stuff to Android and iOS as well. And we do that all from within Visual Studio.”
Along with .NET 4.6, Microsoft also is making available ASP.NET 4.6, the newest version of its Web development framework. ASP.NET 4.6 adds support for HTTP/2 as well as support for the newest C# features and the new Entity Framework 6.1.3. In addition, Microsoft is providing developers with a preview of ASP.NET 5 in Visual Studio 2015.
Visual Studio 2015 also includes the latest Azure SDK 2.6, providing one-click provisioning and deployment to Azure for websites and cloud services, along with easy management of all or your cloud resources, Somasegar said. “Whether your application is using IaaS or PaaS in Azure, built with .NET or Python or Node.js, or deploying to Windows or Linux or Docker containers, the cloud tools in Visual Studio 2015 let you easily integrate with Azure, Somasegar said in his blog post.
Under the DevOps theme, Visual Studio 2015, Team Foundation Server 2015 and Visual Studio Online provide integrated DevOps services that enable teams to continuously deliver, continuously monitor and continuously learn so they can optimize their agility, Somasegar said.
The agile boards in Team Foundation Server and Visual Studio Online are useful for teams to track their work and progress on a day-to-day basis. Team Foundation Server 2015 and Visual Studio Online have introduced a new Pull Requests code review experience for Git projects, enabling faster developer collaboration earlier in the development process. Team Foundation Server 2015 and Visual Studio Online include a new build system that provides a simple Web-based interface for configuring pluggable, cross platform build workflows for the continuous integration pipeline.
The Visual Studio family includes Visual Studio Community, Visual Studio Online and Visual Studio Code, among other offerings. Visual Studio Community is a free, fully-featured Visual Studio IDE for non-enterprise development. Since November, there have been more than five million downloads of Visual Studio Community. Visual Studio Online offers a collection of cloud-hosted developer services — including source control, agile backlog management, hosted build and Application Insights – to developers. There are more than 3.2 million developers registered for Visual Studio Online. Visual Studio Code, now in preview, is a code editor for Mac, Linux and Windows supporting cross-platform Web and cloud development. In the last three months, there have been more than 500,000 downloads of Visual Studio Code. Nearly half of those downloads are from Mac and Linux users, Somasegar said.
“Microsoft has established .NET as a relevant and growing ecosystem to the population of developers that has skilled up on it over the years,” said Al Hilwa, an analyst at IDC.
Over the last year, Microsoft has seen more than 13 million downloads of extensions from the Visual Studio gallery. And today, 84 of Microsoft’s Visual Studio partners are simultaneously shipping extensions supporting Visual Studio 2015.
“We have one of the largest and most vibrant ecosystems around today,” Somasegar said.