Visual Studio 2012 Delivers Rich Toolset for Windows 8, Web Development

REVIEW: Visual Studio 2012 includes many new features and tools for skilled developers who want to build Windows 8 applications, Web applications or new Websites.

Visual Studio 2012 includes many new features, the biggest of which focus on development specifically for the new Windows 8 interface (previously known as "Metro"). I've been using Visual Studio since its original form with Visual C++ 1.0 almost 20 years ago.

This review will point out the new features, as well as a look at a related product that ships with it, Blend. Please note that I'm using Visual Studio 2012 RTM (release to manufacturing) along with the Office Developer Tools Preview 2 and LightSwitch HTML Preview 2, both of which are available as updates to Visual Studio through the Web Platform Installer.

The RTM version is always virtually identical to the final product that Microsoft releases for sale.

Visual Studio 2012 includes a version of the Blend user interface development tool. With previous versions of Visual Studio, Blend was a totally separate product. This version of Blend includes only two project types, both meant for building Windows 8 apps for sale in Microsoft's Windows Store. One is for building HTML apps in JavaScript, and the other is for using Microsoft's Extensible Application Markup Language (XAML), along with either C#, Visual Basic or Visual C++ (Microsoft's .NET-managed form of C++).

The Blend interface looks just as drab as it always did, with dark gray tones that look like an old, burned-down house. (They offer a "light" theme, which is still all gray, just not quite as charred-looking.)

As with earlier versions of Blend, when you create a new project, you get a solution file and project file that can also be opened in Visual Studio. Using Blend, I created a "Split" app for Windows 8, which includes two pages; each page gets it own directory in the file system and includes a .css file, an .html file and a .js file.

Additionally there's a js directory that includes three JavaScript files. But take note: These JavaScript files don't just include silly little JavaScript samples for animating buttons on a Web page. The JavaScript code uses advanced features of JavaScript such as closures. In other words, if you're a Web designer and want to build apps for Windows 8 using HTML and JavaScript, you'll want to make sure that you have honed your JavaScript skills.

The main Visual Studio integrated development environment (IDE) also lets you create these same types of projects. So what's the difference? Blend lets you graphically design your HTML forms and includes a few other features not present in Visual Studio, such as the ability to debug Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) and HTML. (For example, you can check the computed CSS values of HTML elements.) Visual Studio, on the other hand, focuses more on code-based development. However, the visual XAML editor works in both products.