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A Quick Tour of Visual Studio 2008

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This chapter represents what to expect as a first encounter with Visual Studio 2008, including a run-through of the tool to help you get your bearings and a review of the Visual Studio product line.
This chapter is from the book


  • Some Welcome Enhancements to the IDE
  • Develop User Applications
  • Write Connected, Service-Oriented Solutions
  • Work with Data
  • The Visual Studio Product Line

Windows Vista marked the release of the .NET Framework 3.0. This release included many great new features for the Windows developer. Among them was the initial release of Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), Windows Communication Foundation (WCF), and Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF). However, Visual Studio remained unchanged. You could use these new features but they were not "built in" to the IDE. Instead, you had to use extensions to build applications on these .NET Framework elements and Visual Studio 2005.

Visual Studio 2008 represents a re-synch of the development tools and the .NET Framework. The .NET Framework evolves from 3.0 (released with Vista) to 3.5, an incremental release that ships with Visual Studio 2008. The IDE now natively supports WPF, WCF, and WWF out of the box. In addition, there are many other new bells and whistles including direct Office application support, CardSpace, LINQ, a large revision to ASP.NET, the CLR add-in framework, and more. In addition to Visual Studio, SQL Server will get an update in 2008.

If you've been doing this very long, you've come to expect a new release like Visual Studio 2008 to come with new programming models, unfamiliar terms, fresh dialog boxes, and new ways to view code; it can be hard to find your footing on what seems to be unfamiliar ground. This chapter represents what to expect as a first encounter with Visual Studio 2008. We will first do a run-through of the tool to help you get your bearing. We'll then help you sort through the Visual Studio product line. Let this chapter serve as your map of what's great in 2008; it will get you moving in the right direction.

Some Welcome Enhancements to the IDE

Visual Studio 2008 and the .NET Framework 3.5 introduce hundreds of new features to an already full-featured toolset. This latest version is about increasing developer productivity when writing applications targeted at the new version of the .NET Framework. This includes expanded project types, a reduction in mundane tasks, and ever-evolving aspects of team-oriented software engineering. This section and those that follow highlight these enhancements that promise to make your work life easier. Of course, we will go over each of these items in greater detail throughout the book; think of the content in this chapter as your "executive overview" for the hurried developer.

Use a Single Tool for Many Jobs

Many of us work in environments that include applications built on various versions of the .NET Framework. This becomes even more prevalent as more versions are released. For example, you may have an existing application in production built on .NET 2.0. You may be writing a new application on .NET 3.5. However, if your production application requires occasional maintenance, you do not want to have to keep two versions of Visual Studio on your machine.

Visual Studio 2008 supports the ability to target a specific version of the .NET Framework for an application. This means you can use a single tool to develop against many applications built on various .NET Framework flavors. Setting the .NET Framework version of an application will appropriately set the toolbox, project types, available references, and even IntelliSense inside the IDE to be in synch with the chosen .NET Framework version. Figure 1.1 shows creating a new application with Visual Studio 2008 and selecting the .NET Framework version (upper-right corner).

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1 Creating an application that targets a specific version of the .NET Framework.

Notice the Add Reference dialog in Figure 1.2. It shows adding a reference to a Windows application that targets .NET Framework 2.0. In this instance, any component that is part of the 3.0 or 3.5 version of the .NET Framework is disabled (grayed out).

Figure 1.2

Figure 1.2 Adding a reference to .NET Framework 2.0 application.

You can also decide to move your application to a different (hopefully newer) version of the .NET Framework. You can do so inside the project properties dialog (right-click your project file and select Properties). Figure 1.3 shows an example. Notice the Target Framework drop-down. You can change this and the IDE will then reset IntelliSense, reference, your toolbox, and more to the newly selected target framework.

Figure 1.3

Figure 1.3 Resetting the target framework of a Windows application.

Of course, you can use Visual Studio 2008 to open an existing application built on a prior version of the .NET Framework. When doing so, you have the option of upgrading or keeping it tied to the existing .NET Framework version. These features serve to help you upgrade to the advantages of 2008 and continue to work with applications built on an older version of the .NET Framework.

Cleaner Windows

There have been a number of improvements to the overall management and access of the many Windows inside the IDE. Many user interface elements have a new look and new features.

The IDE Navigator

Developers can now navigate open windows in the IDE without touching a mouse. This keeps your fingers on the keyboard and can lead to greater productivity. Visual Studio 2008 provides a couple of options here. The first is a simple Window switching hotkey. Suppose you have a number of code windows open in the IDE. To navigate forward (left to right) through them, you can use the key combination Ctrl+- (minus sign). This is for the standard development settings in the IDE; your settings may differ. To go backward (right to left), you use Ctrl+Shift+- (minus sign). This provides faster Window switching without your having to scroll with the mouse or search through your solution.

You can get similar results using a new visual aid called the IDE Navigator. This tool is similar to the Alt+Tab feature of Windows that allows for fast application switching. To access it, you use Ctrl+Tab (and Ctrl+Shift+Tab). You use this key combination to open the dialog and navigate open code Windows and active tool Windows. Figure 1.4 shows the result. Notice that active files are cycled through on the right.

Figure 1.4

Figure 1.4 The IDE Navigator in action.

Alternatively, you can access the IDE Navigator directly using Alt+F7. This brings up the tool with the active tool windows list selected. You can jump between the lists using the right- and left-arrow keys.

Improved Docking

In prior versions, it was often difficult to get your code or tool window to dock correctly in the IDE. In 2008, docking windows is much improved. There are new icons and visualizations that make this process very simple. Figure 1.5 shows an example of docking the Server Explorer window on top of the Toolbox pane. You can see that there are options to move this window to the left of the toolbox, below it, and so on. Selecting each option shows a visual representation of the results before you release your mouse button.

Figure 1.5

Figure 1.5 Improved window docking.

Standard Dialogs

Another welcome change to the IDE is the use of Windows standard dialog boxes for doing such tasks as opening a file, saving something, or printing code. In prior version of Visual Studio, the IDE had its own versions of these common tasks. However, this only made things confusing because most Windows users are accustomed to working using specific tools.

As an example, consider Figures 1.6 and 1.7. Figure 1.6 is the Open File dialog in Visual Studio 2005. This dialog was specific to Visual Studio. Figure 1.7 shows the same dialog in Visual Studio 2008. Notice that the dialog is the same dialog you would get in any other Windows-based application.

Figure 1.6

Figure 1.6 The Open File dialog in Visual Studio 2005.

Figure 1.7

Figure 1.7 The Open File dialog in Visual Studio 2008.

Choose Your Font

There is a new setting called Environment Font inside the Options dialog (Tools menu) under the Environment node, Fonts and Colors. This option allows you to set the font for the entire IDE to the selection of your choice. Figure 1.8 shows selecting this option from the list.

Figure 1.8

Figure 1.8 Setting the Environment Font.

Changing this font changes your IDE. For example, suppose you set the Environment Font to Courier New, 8pt. This changes dialogs, menus, and more. Figure 1.9 shows the results of such a change.

Figure 1.9

Figure 1.9 The IDE with a new font setting.

Keep Your Settings

Many of you have customized your IDE to fit your exact needs. These settings can be painful to have to re-create. Thankfully, Visual Studio 2008 supports settings migration. If, for example, you already have Visual Studio 2005 installed, Visual Studio 2008 will allow you to migrate these settings on startup.

Alternatively, if you are upgrading to a new computer or want to share your Visual Studio 2008 settings, you can do so using the Import and Export Settings tool. This option is available from the Tools menu in both Visual Studio 2005 and 2008. It is a wizard that allows you to import settings, export them to a file, or reset your settings to one of the IDE defaults. Figure 1.10 shows an example of exporting settings.

Figure 1.10

Figure 1.10 Exporting your settings.

When you export or import settings, you can select those you want to apply. Figure 1.11 shows the second step in the export process. Notice you can pick and choose those items you want to export.

Figure 1.11

Figure 1.11 Selecting the settings you want to export.

The final step when exporting is to save the file as a .vssettings file. This file can then be shared among users. It can also be used to migrate settings from one PC and one IDE version to another. With it, you can rerun the Import and Export Settings Wizard, choosing to import settings from a file.

Share (and Consume) Code with the Community

Writing code is often a community thing. The developer community is broad and, for the most part, supportive of one another. Chances are, if you are having a problem, someone else has had the same issue. You can often reach out across the Internet and find solutions, components, sample code, articles, and the like that help to solve your issue. There is some kinship among developers that attracts them to posting sample code, newsgroup answers, and tips. Perhaps it is as simple as knowing that they may be the next in line to need an answer to a critical question, or maybe it's just the need to show off to one another. Either way, Visual Studio 2008 continues the community support that was built into 2005.

You can still author components targeted at the development community. In 2008, however, you can now indicate whether your components are targeted at both 2005 and 2008 or simply one or the other.

Another change to the community features is the simplification of the community menu items into a couple of menu items under the Help menu. The first menu item links directly to MSDN Forums and replaces Ask a Question and Check Question Status. This allows you to link to the forums and work directly with the features there. The second item is Report a Bug. This menu option replaces Send Feedback.

For more information on the community features of Visual Studio 2008 (and MSDN Forums), see Chapter 7, "The .NET Community: Consuming and Creating Shared Code."

Expanded Class Designer Support

The Class Designer was introduced in Visual Studio 2005. It provides a graphical means for writing and modifying classes. You can use it to define new classes and their relationships, add properties and methods to those classes, and modify elements within a property or method; it even allows for the refactoring of code. A change to a given method name within the Class Designer, for instance, will change the method's name as well as update all the method's callers to use the new name.

Visual Studio 2008 now provides Class Designer support for C++ applications. You can use it to visualize classes and their relationships. This includes seeing native C++ inheritance structures, enums, template classes, and more. There are, however, some limitations. If you are a C++ developer, you will want to review these inside of the production documentation.

The Class Designer is an integral part of Visual Studio Professional Edition and above. However, we cover it in detail inside the Visual Studio Team System part of the book, Chapter 26, "Development Edition."

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