Review: Visual Studio .NET Professional
Fall in and look sharp (C#), as Dave Cook checks out Microsoft's new coding environment
|Product||Visual Studio .NET Professional|
|Price||£756 inc VAT|
|We like||Similar tools used throughout, superb online help|
|We don't like||Price! Printed documentation is very basic.|
Unless you've been living on a different planet these past few months, you'll know that Visual Studio .NET is Microsoft's latest development tool. Visual Studio .NET provides a powerful and seamless coding environment for building desktop applications and enterprise-scale ASP Web applications.
The introduction of .NET signals the end of the old Visual Basic line and is available in four editions: Enterprise Architect, Enterprise Developer, Academic, and Professional. Compared to the two Enterprise editions, Professional contains fewer features and templates, although there is nothing entry-level about its price.
Even so, Professional offers a veritable array (excuse the pun) of goodies, some of which are enhancements to previous versions of Visual Studio and some of which are brand new.
So what exactly does Professional have to offer? For a start, it includes three powerful and moderately-easy to use languages: Visual Basic .NET, Visual C++ .NET, and Visual C# (pronounced C sharp) .NET. Moreover, if you purchase Professional now, a coupon entitling you to a single copy of Visual Studio J# .NET is also included and redeemable upon launch of said product later this year.
Educational establishments and eligible institutions can catch a bargain by applying for the Visual Studio .NET Academic edition. Languages are also available separately. At the time of writing, Visual C# .NET costs around £87 including VAT.
You can, of course, simply use .NET to build Windows applications, much like the Visual Studio of old. In addition, there's support for the .NET Framework, which provides a common language runtime and unified programming classes: ASP.NET and XML Web services.
Visual Studio .NET can also be used to target handheld devices, create XML Web services, build Web applications, and design tables and views on the SQL Server Desktop Engine.
With so much to hand, you'll be pleased to know that help is never far away. Aside from two powerful Help engines (Dynamic and F1), the incredibly useful MSDN Library is also included. The library contains both periodicals and technical articles and makes essential reading for anyone wishing to research .Net's new technologies.
As the new kid on the block, Visual C# .NET is the offering bound to attract most attention. Though more powerful than Visual Basic .NET, the two are quite similar in practice; and once you get the hang of either, you can very-nearly claim to be a programmer of both.
As an object-orientated language, Visual C# .NET bears some resemblance to Java and J2EE - especially when it comes to the handling of components. A coincidence? Perhaps, but then if Microsoft has its way, Visual C# .NET will become the developer's language of choice.
In .NET, several enhancements have been added to Visual Studio's range of editing tools. One of the most useful improvements concerning the code editor is the Clipboard Ring, which stores the last 15 items used. Note also that the code editor is unified for all languages - much like the Debug Tool.
The HTML Designer has both Design and HTML views - so no surprises there! The former provides a 'what you see is what you get' (WYSIWYG) design that provides both double-click and drag-and-drop functionality.
Thankfully, you can display Web pages directly within the shared integrated development environment (IDE). The Deployment Tools have also been enhanced, as indeed have the Macro and Automation Object Model Tools.
Final Points To Note
For best results, Professional should be run on a Windows NT-based machine such as Windows 2000 or Windows XP. Be aware, though, that if you want to create Web projects on a machine running .NET, you must first install several additional components.
Typically, both Internet Information Services (IIS) and FrontPage Server Extensions (FPSE) should be installed and configured along with the latest security updates. You can, however, create Web projects on remote machines with these components installed and configured. In such cases there will be no need to update the host machine.
With Visual Studio .NET Professional, developers get to share a familiar IDE and program in languages they already know. And thanks to the many pre-built components and programming wizards, development cycle times should be reduced significantly.
There will be a learning curve, of course, particularly in regard to Visual C# .NET. That shouldn't be a problem, though, as the language is easily integrated into .NET. Put simply, the best has become even better!