Microsoft included a pre-release version of Visual Studio 11 in the Windows 8 Developer Preview, of course, giving developers the tools they needed to get started on Metro-style app development. But with the Consumer Preview, these tools are available as a separate Beta download.
Last week, Microsoft provided a sneak peek of Visual Studio 11, though it didn't speak much about Windows 8 developer issues specifically. I can tell you, however, that the Windows 8 platform--the Metro-based environment--was finalized about two months ago, so the versions of the APIs and platform we see now with the Consumer Preview is pretty close to complete. Too, the Visual Studio 11 Beta is close to final from a user experience standpoint.
So before we discuss anything else, you'll want to get that download (and installation) going.
(Note that the Beta will include separate downloads of Visual Studio 11 Ultimate, Premium, Professional, Test Professional, Team Foundation Server, Express for Windows 8, Express for Web, and Team Foundation Server Express. Visual C++, Visual C#, and Visual Basic Express editions are not available for this release.)
I don't write much about developer topics, though many readers are probably unfamiliar that I have a long developer background and have in fact wrote numerous software development books. But with a nod towards the audience of this site, I'll keep this discussion on target.
First, I find it interesting that the Visual Studio team has so thoroughly fallen into lockstep behind Windows 8 in this release. That may sound like a somewhat obvious strategy, but it's not always this explicit. This week's Beta release of Visual Studio 11 matches up exactly with the Windows 8 Beta (which has been rebranded Consumer Preview for marketing reasons) and the Windows Server 8 Beta as well. One might logically assume that the final releases of all three will likewise occur simultaneously, or nearly so, in Q4 2012.
But it's not just a schedule alignment that's raised my eyebrows. In a webcast for the press last week, Microsoft referred to the streamlining of the Visual Studio 11 user interface as a "fierce reduction" down to only the most essential elements, where all surrounding application chrome--i.e. everything that is not the code you're working on--has been flattened and decolorized so that your eyes naturally fall to the right place. Some may quibble over the aesthetics of such an approach, and certainly the Visual Studio 11 UI is not Metro-based, on visually similar to Metro for the most part. But it is most certainly conceptually similar to the minimalist, chrome-less UIs that Microsoft has created for Windows Phone and Windows 8. This is not coincidental.
(Microsoft is taking a similar approach with Server Manager in Windows Server 8, which is not "pure Metro" but utilizes some Metro concepts in its user experience.)
Also, while Microsoft has been providing free Express versions of Visual Studio for a few versions now, with Visual Studio 11 the company is, for the first time, embracing enthusiast developers--the students, entrepreneurs, and others who are now targeting new mobile app stores with apps in their spare time. This requires a different kind of focus, and in the case of Visual Studio 11, also some nice integration with the Windows 8-based Windows Store as well.
Developers interested in targeting Windows 8 will want to pay attention to a few key things for this release.
Tools. The aforementioned Visual Studio 11 Beta isn't the only toolset to key your eyes on. Microsoft is also releasing a Beta version of the Windows SDK for Metro style apps, an Assessment and Deployment Kit (ADK) for ensuring that your software performs well, the Expression Blend Beta (part of VS11 Beta, which now supports HTML 5 and CSS3), and a Beta version of the Windows Driver Kit (WDK for building device drivers.
Templates. The Visual Studio 11 Beta includes new pre-built layouts for common Metro-style app types, including fixed layouts, grid app, navigation app, and split app.
Windows Dev Center. The new Windows Dev Center provides everything a developer will need to create Windows 8 apps, including the tools, reference content, code samples, how-to information, and community forums. There's a Windows 8 sample gallery with hundreds of samples that show off nearly every new Windows 8 developer feature too.
Windows Store. On February 29, Microsoft will make the big reveal about which apps are appearing in the Windows Store first, but developers will want to learn how they can get their own apps into the store. Details are available at the Windows Dev Center.