Microsoft Visual Studio '15' Preview expands Android, iOS support

Company offers preview of next version of software development platform

Microsoft Visual Studio '15' Preview expands Android, iOS support
Credit: thinkstock

In another nod to the winners of the mobile market share battle -- Google's Android and Apple's iOS -- Microsoft is improving its signature Visual Studio IDE with more functionality for their phones and tablets.

These improvements and a host of others for capabilities such as installation and Universal Windows Platform (UWP) are featured this week in Visual Studio "15" Preview, an early version of the platform's next release. The company also is offering Visual Studio 2015 Update 2, an upgrade to the currently available product.

For iOS mobile development projects based on C++, Visual Studio "15" can import existing Xcode projects through an entry-point wizard. When Xcode is still required, developers can use the "Open in Xcode" feature. For Android development on C++, the IDE supports Gradle builds. Gradle is recognized as the preferred build system for Android development. With NuGet 3.4 package manager, also featured in the preview, there is support for iOS and Android build actions in the contentFiles element. NuGet can run in Linux and Apple environments.

The iOS experience in "15" offers an edit-build-debug cycle, with developers able to use provisioning files; they also can use frameworks and dylibs. The experience has been improved for dynamically refreshing debug targets. Microsoft's accommodations for iOS and Android in "15" are not its first, however. The company previously has offered capabilities for Android and iOS in Visual Studio.

A Microsoft official cited an enhanced installer as a key to the "15" preview. "Perhaps the most prominent thing you'll notice when you go to install this release is that there are two ways to install. With Visual Studio '15,' we are previewing a new lightweight installer that focuses on making installation much faster and less impactful," said John Montgomery, Microsoft director of program management for Visual Studio. "The smallest installation of Visual Studio with the new installer downloads in less than 300MB and includes basic code editing support for over 20 languages along with debugging and source code control," he said.

Visual Studio"15" is still an unsupported release, and Microsoft advises developers to refrain from using it in production environments.

Promoting UWP, which encompasses Microsoft's multiform factor apps strategy, the "15" preview offers an updated .Net native tool chain to improve runtime performance for managed UWP apps. The 5.1.0 Microsoft.Net Core Universal Windows Platform package, meanwhile, is an update to the .Net Core NuGet framework enabling UWP projects to use the NuGet reference manager.

The preview includes an updated C++ compiler and standard library with enhanced support for C++ versions 11 and 14. Preliminary support is featured for the C++ 17 standard as well. C++ compiler changes include Variable templates and contextpr improvements.

The JavaScript language service is previewed, using TypeScript definition files to improve IntelliSense. Also featured is IntelliSense support for JSDoc comment connotations, and ECMAScript 6 and Common JS module formats. JSX Syntax is supported as well. In addition, Visual Studio "15" includes updates to SQL Server Data tools, backing Azure SQL Database and SQL Server 2015. Office Developer Tools for Visual Studio, meanwhile, cover Office Add-in templates specific to Excel, Word, PowerPoint, and Outlook.

In Visual Studio 2015 Update 2, UWP is again a focus. The UWP SDK Version Picker enables developers to select a version of the Windows SDK to target, along with a minimum OS version on which apps would be available. Developers also can debug C++ background task processes in a Universal Windows App. The Store package wizard now catches application names and package configurations.

"After a package has been associated with the Store, you can create an appx package without signing in again," Microsoft said.

Accommodations for Apache Cordova development in the update include support for Cordova 6.0.0 and better build error messages. There is also improved integration with NPM modules. For C++, the compiler and standard library offer enhanced support for C++ version 11 and 14, with preliminary support for C++ 17, like in the "15" version. Also for C++, the SQLite-based database engine is now used by default to speed up operations. The TypeScript 1.8 JavaScript variant is supported in the update.

For C#, developers now can initialize the interactive window with a project's context, giving immediate access to types inside the project. Python Tools 2.3.3 for Visual Studio are in as well, providing editing, IntelliSense, and debugging.

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