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The Visual Studio IDE

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Managing the Many Windows of the IDE

To round out our whirlwind tour, we thought it important to provide you guidance on customizing and managing the plethora of windows available within the IDE (lest they leave you with a postage-stamp-size window in which to write your code). To manage these windows, you really need to know only two skills: pinning and docking.


Pinning refers to the process of making a window stick in the open position. It is called pinning in reference to the visual cue you use to perform the act: a pushpin (refer to the highlighted area of the Solution Explorer title bar in Figure 2.26). Pinning is imperative because you sometimes want full-screen real estate for writing code or designing a form. In this case, you should unpin (hide) the various extraneous windows in your IDE. Note that when a window is unpinned, a vertical tab represents the window (see the highlighted Toolbox tab in Figure 2.26). Moving the mouse near this tab results in the window unfolding for your use. After you use it, however, it goes back to its hiding spot. Alternatively, you might be working to drop controls on a form. In doing so, you might want to pin (stick open) the Toolbox window (refer to Figure 2.22).

Figure 2.26

Figure 2.26 Pinning windows inside the IDE.


Docking is the process of connecting windows to various sticky spots within the IDE. Typically, this means docking to the left, top, right, or bottom of the IDE. For example, the Toolbox is, by default, docked to the left side of the IDE. You might prefer to put it at the bottom of the screen, docked below the active designer. You might also want to dock the Solution Explorer to the top of the screen and then un-pin it for quick access. You can see an example of these docking options in Figure 2.27.

Figure 2.27

Figure 2.27 Some docking options in the IDE.

You can also dock windows to one another. For example, you might want to dock the Properties window below the Solution Explorer. Or you might want the Properties window to be a tab within the same window to which the Solution Explorer is docked (refer to Figure 2.22).

To help with docking, Visual Studio 2010 has provided visual cues and helpers. First, click and hold the title bar with the mouse, and then drag the window to where you want to dock it. Visual Studio displays some docking icons.

Four icons are at the edge of the IDE, one each at the left, top, right, and bottom. These icons are used for docking the window at the given edge of the IDE. Using these icons results in the window being docked across the full length (or width) of the IDE. Figure 2.28 shows each of these icons as the Properties window is being docked.

Figure 2.28

Figure 2.28 A window being docked.

There is also an icon that shows over the top of a window to which you might want to dock. This icon is used for docking the selected window relative to another window in the IDE. For example, you might want to dock the Properties window under the Solution Explore window (as shown in Figure 2.28). You do so with the bottom icon inside this icon group.

Of course, you can also undock items. This is simply the process of floating windows off by themselves (outside, or on top of, the IDE). To do so, you simply grab (click with the mouse) a window by the title bar and move it off to the side of the IDE or just don't choose a docking icon.

Finally, when working with a window, you can right-click the title bar and tell Visual Studio how the window should behave. Figure 2.29 shows the available options. The down-arrow icon on the window provides access to the same features. The Float option indicates that the window floats wherever you put it, on top of the IDE. This can be useful if you find yourself moving windows about or need to use multiple monitors. You turn off this option by choosing Dock. You can also use the Dock as tabbed Document option to add a window to the center of your IDE to behave just like a designer or code editor.

Figure 2.29

Figure 2.29 The IDE window options.

Navigating IDE Windows

You can 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 2010 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 might differ. To go backward (right to left), you use Ctrl+Shift+- (minus sign). This provides faster window-switching without requiring that you scroll with the mouse or search through your solution.

You can get similar results using a 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 box and navigate open code windows and active tool windows. Figure 2.30 shows the result. Notice that active files are cycled through on the right. You can jump between the active tools and active file lists using the right- and left-arrow keys.

Figure 2.30

Figure 2.30 The IDE Navigator in action.

Customize Your Font

There is a setting called Environment Font inside the Options dialog box (Tools menu) under the Environment node, Fonts and Colors. This option enables you to set the font for the entire IDE to the selection of your choice. Figure 2.31 shows selecting this option from the list.

Figure 2.31

Figure 2.31 Setting the Environment Font.

Changing this font changes your IDE. For example, suppose you set the Environment Font to Courier New. Dialogs, menus, the Toolbox, Solution Explorer, and more change. Figure 2.32 shows the results of such a change.

Figure 2.32

Figure 2.32 The IDE with a new font setting.

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