Microsoft Streamlines Visual Studio Installation

Microsoft is refactoring its Visual Studio installation to be smaller, faster, more reliable and easier to manage.

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As Microsoft moves to become all things to all developers, the company has undergone some growing pains in terms of making that happen via its core toolset, Visual Studio.

The move to take its .NET platform cross-platform and to support all different kinds of development from the Visual Studio toolset has bloated the size of the tools. And 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.

If you just think about the mobile space alone, there's the Android software development kit (SDK), the Cordova tools, the different emulators and more that a developer can use, she said. The overall collection of tools, SDKs and emulators is a very large set.

Combining that large tool set with customers who have a habit of simply checking the "Select All" box when installing a product can lead to some disgruntled customers.

Indeed, according to Liuson, with customers who download the entire product on their machine, Microsoft frequently gets feedback about the size of the download and questions of why Visual Studio is now 40 gigabytes.

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 working on for the next release of Visual Studio, code-named Visual Studio 15.

"We're hoping that with most of the users, the amount of stuff that they install to get started should be a lot smaller than what they do today," Liuson said.

In a post on the Visual Studio Blog, Tim Sneath, principal lead program manager for the Visual Studio Platform at Microsoft, said based on feedback Microsoft got from developers at Build and from other research, Microsoft has come up with a list of 17 workloads the company is building for developers to choose from in next version of Visual Studio.

Those workloads are:

1. Universal Windows Platform development

2. Web development (including ASP.NET, TypeScript and Azure tooling)

3. Windows desktop app development with C++

4. Cross-platform mobile development with .NET (including Xamarin)

5. .NET desktop application development

6. Linux and Internet of things development with C++

7. Cross-platform mobile development with Cordova

8. Mobile app development with C++ (including Android and iOS)

9. Office/SharePoint add-in development

10. Python Web development (including Django and Flask support)

11. Data science and analytical applications (including R, F# and Python)

12. Node.js development

13. Cross-platform game development (including Unity)

14. Native Windows game development (including DirectX)

15. Data storage and processing (including SQL, Hadoop and Azure ML)

16. Azure cloud services development and management

17. Visual Studio extension development

"You can select one or more of these when setting up Visual Studio, and we’ll pull down and install just the relevant Visual Studio components that you need to be productive in that stack," Sneath said.

Liuson noted that Microsoft is very sensitive to the fact that because it is making such a major change to a core part of its product experience, there will be a lot of feedback. And the company wants to hear customers' perspectives and address any concerns people might have.

"Even though this is not a new product feature, it's such an important way for people to access all the features that we do offer," she said. "So this is actually a pretty important infrastructure change that the engineering team is working through. And it's a fairly big and disruptive change from an engineering angle."

Sneath's post goes on to inform developers on how they can install Visual Studio faster and leaner. He also provides details on how the new installer will work.