LANGUAGES: VB.NET | C#
ASP.NET VERSIONS: 2.0
Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition
Take a One-Year Test Drive of the Premier Web Development IDE
By Ken McNamee
At the time of this writing, Visual Studio 2005 in all of its various incarnations has just been released to the developer community with a tremendous amount of fanfare. Everyone is rejoicing: developers, testers, project managers, Microsoft shareholders, etc. Visual Studio 2005 Professional and Team Suite (or Team Sweet, as I like to think of it) are both aimed at the enterprise/corporate cubicle-dwelling developer for whom source control and issue tracking integration are absolutely essential to get the job done. The Team editions of Visual Studio 2005 also include tools aimed at software testers, project leads, and architects instead of being purely developer-focused.
In addition to Professional and Team Suite, the other member and lowest commercial version on the Visual Studio family tree is the Standard edition. Although, I must say, I m hard-pressed to see who this version is really aimed at because it hardly has any features not included in the version that is the focus of this article: Visual Web Developer 2005 Express Edition (Visual Web Developer Express). Visual Web Developer Express is part of the family of Visual Studio Express tools that also includes C#, Visual Basic, C++, and J# Express. The key difference is that all of those tools are only capable of Windows Forms development, while Visual Web Developer Express is ... well, you know. However, Visual Web Developer Express only supports C# and VB.NET, so all of you C++ and J# Web developers are simply out of luck ... but you already knew that.
Installing Visual Web Developer Express was a little tricky for me. I ve had to do a lot of installing and uninstalling of beta versions of Visual Studio 2005 and SQL Server 2005 over the past year, which is akin to eating double-cheeseburgers for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a year: Eventually it s going to catch up to you. So I elected to do the computer equivalent of a triple-bypass with a transfusion and reinstall Windows XP, Office 2003, Visual Studio.NET 2003, SQL Server 2000, etc. which got my laptop back to a pretty typical development state. Under these conditions I had no problems installing Visual Web Developer Express.
I should also note that Microsoft has kindly made available a beta uninstall tool for people like me who have been far too eager to throw caution to the wind and install the very latest beta bits. You can find this tool at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=47598. Unfortunately, it didn t work for me, but I think my machine was too far gone. I ve heard from other developers for whom it worked fine, so I would definitely recommend running it as your first step if you ve been installing any .NET beta software.
The installation of Visual Web Developer Express couldn t be easier. Simply go to http://msdn.microsoft.com/vstudio/express/vwd/download/ and download the 2MB setup file and run it. As you can see in Figure 1, the setup application will examine your computer and only download the components that you choose or that are necessary to complete the installation. The MSDN Express Library is a must, but SQL Server Express is optional (in my opinion) because I d recommend that you instead get your hands on SQL Server 2005 Developer Edition if you can. It has all the features of the Enterprise edition and is only $49. You also get the very excellent SQL Server Management Console, which I will be writing more about in the coming months.
Figure 1: The Visual Web Developer Express installation process is super simple, and gives you the option to also install SQL Server Express and the MSDN Library in one step.
The good news is that as far as Web development goes Visual Web Developer Express is incredibly full-featured and doesn t cut any corners when it comes to IDE support for all the great new features and controls contained in ASP.NET 2.0 (as you can see from the Add New Item dialog box displayed in Figure 2). Visual Web Developer Express provides full support for such things as master pages, Web services, SQL Server Express integration, XML/XSLT, mobile devices, and ASP.NET themes, just to name a few.
Figure 2: Visual Web Developer Express might be a little limited on enterprise features, but it still provides full support for all the great new features and controls contained in ASP.NET 2.0.
I won t be going into all the features of Visual Web Developer Express here because they are also contained in the bigger Visual Studio 2005, whose feature-set I d like to devote more extensive articles to in the future rather than a few measly sentences now. But, suffice to say that Visual Web Developer Express provides almost everything you need for ASP.NET Web development, such as:
- IntelliSense everywhere
- A streamlined IDE that is totally focused on Web development
- A WSYSIWYG designer that doesn t mangle your code
- Master pages support
- A code snippets manager
- A visual database designer/manager
- An edit and continue debugger that is much improved over VS 2003
- Tag and document outliners to help you keep from getting lost in your code
- Window docking that doesn t make you want to pull your hair out
- An almost fully customizable IDE
- An improved start page (see Figure 3)
- Support for project-less, local file system Web sites, as well as local IIS and remote FTP or FrontPage Web sites (see Figure 4)
Figure 3: The Visual Web Developer Express IDE provides a very helpful start page, which provides many shortcuts for common tasks and links to help pages, community forums, and articles for those new to ASP.NET 2.0.
Figure 4: Visual Web Developer Express now supports flexible development and deployment scenarios with project-less, local file system Web sites, as well as local IIS and remote FTP or FrontPage Web sites.
And if you find that Visual Web Developer Express just doesn t quite cut it and you need to upgrade to Standard, Professional, or Team Suite, you should be pleased to know that all of your files and projects are 100% compatible across all Visual Studio 2005 versions.
Amazingly, Microsoft has decided to provide all the Visual Studio Express products free of charge for one year, and then only charge $49 after that. The folks in Redmond appear to be targeting the enthusiast/hobbyist/student crowd with these products, but I m sure the hope is to also get those developers hooked on Visual Studio to the point where they re willing to upgrade to some of the more full-featured versions. Whatever the plan, all I know is that Visual Web Developer Express is probably the best free tool I ve written about since I began this column more than three years ago. In terms of development features, ease of deployment, and upward compatibility with its bigger Visual Studio 2005 cousins, Visual Web Developer Express should be a great fit for many ASP.NET developers.
Ken McNamee is a Senior Software Developer with Vertigo Software, Inc., a leading provider of software development and consulting services on the Microsoft platform. Prior to this, he led a team of developers in re-architecting the Home Shopping Network s e-commerce site, http://www.HSN.com, to 100% ASP.NET with C#. Readers can contact him at [email protected].