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My Favorite Visual Studio 2012 Features

RELATED: "What's New in .NET 4.5 and Visual Studio 2012" and "Visual Studio 2012 LightSwitch's New HTML5 Features and Beyond."

Visual Studio 2012 is now available for download on the MSDN site. I always find it interesting that Visual Studio is the only Microsoft product that we, as developers, automatically upgrade to without even giving it a second thought. When we upgrade to a new version of Windows, for example, we make an elaborate plan and weigh and measure consequences. This decision-making process is pretty much the same for new versions of every other Microsoft product. 

But developers almost always upgrade to the new version of Visual Studio and some use it in production months before a shipping version becomes available. Why is this? We depend on it as the most important tool that we use. Visual Studio has built a strong reputation throughout the years and now it's considered a must-have when an upgrade becomes available. Visual Studio 2012 certainly fulfills the promise.

Visual Studio is a tool that elicits an emotional and almost religious response from developers. I've heard many stories from developers throughout the years who have quit their jobs because their company wouldn't pay the licensing fees for the new version of Visual Studio. There's good news for developers that are employed by stingy companies: Visual Studio is free. Visual Studio Express 2012 literally has all of the features of its licensed big brother, Visual Studio Professional 2012. The only difference between the two editions is Visual Studio Professional 2012's application lifecycle management (ALM) features and tools. Everything's there in Visual Studio Express 2012 for awesome developer productivity, and you can even use Team Foundation Server with Visual Studio Express 2012.

After having a long chat with a very proud and excited John Montgomery, director of program management for Microsoft's Visual Studio team, I'm listing my top four features for Visual Studio 2012 in case you were on the fence or haven't upgraded yet.

The Visual Studio Simulator

I remember when Visual Studio 2010 added an emulator for Windows Phone development. I thought, "That's just brilliant. You don't even need to own a device to build software for it." Little did I know that Microsoft could make a great thing even better. The Visual Studio simulator is much more powerful than the emulator. The simulator in Visual Studio 2012 enables debugging applications for scenarios that you don't have natively on your machine, which includes Windows 8 applications that require hardware support such as rotation, touch, and different target screen resolutions and contracts.

The Visual Studio simulator lets developers debug Windows 8 applications in a Windows 8 environment. There are three primary ways to debug a Windows 8 application in Visual Studio 2012: Local Machine, Remote Machine, and Simulator. Beneath the hood, the Visual Studio simulator is a Remote Desktop Session on your local machine.

The DOM Explorer

The DOM Explorer is a very powerful runtime debugging tool that provides detailed information on how and why the Document Object Model (DOM) is represented. You can even change individual properties and see the effects of these changes immediately.

The DOM Explorer provides a view that represents how the shell interprets a web page rather than showing the page's source code. It gives you access to dynamic information about the styles, layouts, and attributes of currently selected elements. You can change the styles, layouts, and attributes and immediately see the results. The DOM Explorer lets you test changes by using an iterative process without stopping and restarting the debugger. The source code in your project doesn't change when you interact with the web page by using this method, so when you find the desired code corrections, you can stop the debugger and make changes to your source code. The DOM Explorer provides a huge leap in developer productivity.

Improved IntelliSense

We're so spoiled as developers. When we get a new intern or young developer at InterKnowlogy, I love asking the question, "Can you imagine a world where you can build software without IntelliSense?" And my interns typically look at me like I'm from Mars. Is there any other Visual Studio feature that we depend on more? What feature in Visual Studio provides more developer productivity than IntelliSense?

The JavaScript editor has been completely rewritten on top of the same Chakra runtime that ships in Internet Explorer (IE) 10, which means that IntelliSense is faster and more accurate than ever before. IntelliSense ToolTips are also much richer. IntelliSense Quick Info ToolTips now shows richer XML documentation for comment-style information. If you're using an API from a library such as C++ AMP that has XML documentation comments, then the IntelliSense ToolTip shows more information than just the declaration. Also, if your code has the XML documentation comments, then IntelliSense ToolTips shows richer information.

The IntelliSense engine was designed to accommodate the development of both web apps and Windows 8 apps, so regardless of which platform you're targeting, you'll receive the same rich IntelliSense experience.

The JavaScript Console

The JavaScript Console is similar to the tools that are found in IE's F12 developer tools. The JavaScript Console lets you play with code modifications against an app that's currently running. In the JavaScript Console, you can interact with the rendered app by sending messages to the console, viewing the values of local and global variables, and running JavaScript code. The console also reports JavaScript errors and exceptions, as well as DOM and Windows Runtime (WinRT) exceptions.

So those are my favorite features for Visual Studio 2012. What are yours? It certainly looks like this is a monumental release for the Visual Studio team, especially when you consider how the platform elegantly helps us build software for the new and revolutionary Windows 8 runtime applications. And the good news is that you don't have to wait months or years for your company to roll out Windows 8 before you can continue to build .NET Framework applications with Visual Studio 2012 just like you have for over a decade with the previous version of Visual Studio.

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