The Evolution of Microsoft's Visual Studio

Tim Huckaby explains how Microsoft's product strategies have changed for Visual Studio throughout the years

The launch event and general release of Microsoft Visual Studio 2012 is imminent. I keep getting email messages from my International .NET Association (INETA) brethren about hosting an upcoming Visual Studio 2012 community launch event, which suggests that the news will be public by the time you read this. Other than Visual Studio, is there any other software that developers automatically upgrade to without even questioning? Is there any other piece of software that you find you need to get your hands on as much as this one?

As developers, we do love our tools. And there's no tool that's more important for building software on the Microsoft platform than Visual Studio. Many developers aren't the crazy type like me that would attempt to build production software on prerelease tools. But I'm expecting that the majority of developers will switch to the latest and greatest version when Visual Studio ships for production.

Interestingly enough, the first and last time I stood on stage next to Bill Gates was when he was presenting a demo for the Visual Studio .NET 2003 launch event in 2003. My, how time has flown. Visual Studio has been on a new-version shipping cadence of about every two years since then, as Table 1 shows, so we're right on track for a fall release.

Table 1: Shipping Schedule for Versions of Visual Studio
Table 1: Shipping Schedule for Versions of Visual Studio 

But the hype around Visual Studio 2012 and the launch event are different from Microsoft's previous releases. Between Microsoft's secretive product strategies and the distinct lack of marketing, I can honestly tell you that I feel a bit unarmed. With the typical Visual Studio product cycle that's been seen in the past, I'd be able to talk for hours on end about how Visual Studio's new features are awesome. Visual Studio 2012 might be awesome; I'm pretty confident that it is. It's just that because of Microsoft's new and secretive product strategies, I haven't used Visual Studio 2012 in a prerelease state as I did in Visual Studio's previous product cycles.

I'm not saying that the company's strategy is bad or good. I'm just saying that it's different. In the past, all those great Microsoft folks in the developer marketing department armed people such as me with training and marketing for the Visual Studio suite months, if not years, in advance. However, the Microsoft Developer Marketing team is long gone, and many of the folks who belonged to it are no longer even at Microsoft.

The other main reason that this launch is different is because the release isn't focused on Microsoft .NET Framework. Although Visual Studio 2012 is still the best tool for building .NET applications, it's mostly being marketed for building Metro applications in Windows Runtime (WinRT). All of Visual Studio's cool new features in terms of its IDE and developer productivity are rooted in Metro applications that run on WinRT, which means that those applications run only on Windows 8. Of course, Windows 8 is close to production, too, but it'll probably be a long time before we get around to installing it in the enterprise. Therefore, many developers won't be able to get too excited about Visual Studio 2012's new and cool features because their companies won't immediately install Windows 8, which prohibits developers from creating Metro applications.

My original plan for this month's column was to write a Visual Studio 2012 features article, but I think that this article idea is best saved for a day in the future when the product has shipped and we have visibility to a much more robust WinRT to code against. Until then, let's cherish the tool for what it is and probably always will be—the best.

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