Similarly, Microsoft says the goals of the Visual Studio 11 UI revamp are to enhance productivity and reduce distractions, and it says it can back its decisions with real-world user research. For example, in one study, users were able to identify VS11's simplified icons much faster than those of Visual Studio 2010.
Dig a little deeper, though, and you'll find another motive behind the new interface: Professional developers and longtime Visual Studio users may resent the changes, but these core customers aren't the only audience Microsoft is hoping to woo with Visual Studio 11.
According to S. Somasegar, corporate vice president of Microsoft's developer division, the software tools marketplace has changed significantly over the last decade. "What used to be 10 million developers is now upwards of 100 million, spanning not only 'professional developers,' but also students, entrepreneurs, and in general people who want to build an app and put it up on an app store," he writes.
In other words, we're witnessing nothing less than the consumerization of Visual Studio. In much the same way that smartphones, tablets, and other consumer computing devices are revolutionizing IT, Microsoft sees the growing interest in consumer platforms as the key to the next phase of the software development tools market.
That's the story, anyway. On the other hand, it's hard to see how removing icons from toolbars will help neophytes get up to speed with Visual Studio, or how reducing the color platform to a bland, lifeless grayscale will convince anyone that software development is an exciting and vibrant career path.
Other commenters on the Visual Studio blog point out how VS11's monochromatic palette makes it harder to use for older developers and others with diminished eyesight.
The good news, at least, is that the new Visual Studio UI is not set in stone. According to Microsoft technical evangelist Brian Peek, leaving feedback on Microsoft's Visual Studio blog "will get it to the right people."
Beta programs aren't what they used to be, though. At one time, beta used to mean the software might actually change before it shipped. These days, it seems like little more than a euphemism for user focus groups. If that's the case for Visual Studio and Microsoft really wants to engage 100 million software developers, it's setting a lousy example.
This article, "Visual Studio 11's UI is sharper than you think," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Neil McAllister's Fatal Exception blog and follow the latest news in programming at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.